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it as a piece of the greatest good fortune," writes he to Washington (Feb. 5th), "that the Congress have detached a committee to this place, otherwise I should have made a most ridiculous figure, besides bringing upon myself the enmity of the whole province. My hands were effectually tied up from taking any step necessary for the public service by the late resolve of Congress, putting every detachment of the Continental forces under the command of the Provincial Congress where such detachment is."
By a singular coincidence, on the very day of his arrival Sir Henry Clinton, with the squadron which had sailed so mysteriously from Boston, looked into the harbor. "Though it was Sabbath," says a letter-writer of the day, "it threw the whole city into such a convulsion as it never knew before. Many of the inhabitants hastened to move their effects into the country, expecting an immediate conflict. All that day and all night were there carts going and boats loading, and women and children crying, and distressed voices heard in the roads in the dead of the night." *
Clinton sent for the mayor, and expressed much surprise and concern at the distress caused by his arrival; which was merely, he said, on a short visit to his friend Tryon, and to see how matters stood. He professed a juvenile love for the place, and desired that the inhabitants might be informed of the purport of his visit, and that he would go away as soon as possible.
"He brought no troops with him," writes Lee, "and pledges his honor that none are coming. He says it is merely a visit to his friend Tryon. If it is really so, it is the most whimsical piece of civility I ever heard of."
Remembrancer, vol. iii.
A gentleman in New York, writing to a friend in Philadelphia, reports one of the general's characteristic menaces which kept the town in a fever.
"Lee says he will send word on board of the men-of-war that, if they set a house on fire, he will chain a hundred of their friends by the neck, and make the house their funeral pile.” *
For this time, the inhabitants of New York were let off for their fears. Clinton, after a brief visit, continued his mysterious cruise, openly avowing his destination to be North Carolina-which nobody believed, simply because he avowed it.
The Duke of Manchester, speaking in the House of Lords of the conduct of Clinton, contrasts it with that of Lord Dunmore, who wrapped Norfolk in flames. "I will pass no censure on that noble lord," said he, "but I could wish that he had acted with that generous spirit that forbade Clinton uselessly to destroy the town of New York. My lords, Clinton visited New York; the inhabitants expected its destruction. Lee appeared before it with an army too powerful to be attacked, and Clinton passed by without doing any wanton damage."
The necessity of conferring with committees at every step was a hard restraint upon a man of Lee's ardent and impatient temper, who had a soldierlike contempt for the men of peace around him; yet at the outset he bore it better than might have been expected.
"The Congress committees, a certain number of the committees of safety, and your humble servant," writes he to Washington, "have had two conferences. The result is such
* Am. Archives, 5th Series, iv. 941.
as will agreeably surprise you. It is in the first place agreed, and justly, that to fortify the town against shipping is impracticable; but we are to fortify lodgments on some commanding part of the city for two thousand men. We are to erect inclosed batteries on both sides of the water, near Hell Gate, which will answer the double purpose of securing the town against piracies through the Sound, and secure our communication with Long Island, now become a more important point than ever; as it is determined to form a strong fortified camp of three thousand men, on the Island, immediately opposite to New York. The pass in these Highlands is to be made as respectable as possible, and guarded by a battalion. In short, I think the plan judicious and complete."
The pass in the Highlands above alluded to is that grand defile of the Hudson, where, for upward of fifteen miles, it wends its deep channel between stern, forest-clad mountains and rocky promontories. Two forts, about six miles distant from each other, and commanding narrow parts of the river at its bends through the Highlands, had been commenced in the preceding autumn, by order of the Continental Congress; but they were said to be insufficient for the security of that important pass, and were to be extended and strengthened.
Washington had charged Lee, in his instructions, to keep a stern eye upon the tories, who were active in New York. "You can seize upon the persons of the principals," said he; "they must be so notoriously known that there will be little danger of committing mistakes." Lee acted up to the letter of these instructions, and weeded out with a vigorous hand some of the rankest of the growth. This gave great offense to the peace-loving citizens, who insisted that he was arrogating a power vested solely in the civil authority. One of
them, well-affected to the cause, writes: "To see the vast number of houses shut up, one would think the city almost evacuated. Women and children are scarcely to be seen in the streets. Troops are daily coming in; they break open and quarter themselves in any house they find shut."*
The enemy, too, regarded his measures with apprehension. "That arch rebel Lee," writes a British officer, "has driven all the well-affected people from the town of New York. If something is not speedily done, his Britannic majesty's American dominions will be confined within a very narrow compass." +
In the exercise of his military functions, Lee set Governor Tryon and the captain of the "Asia" at defiance. "They had threatened perdition to the town," writes he to Washington, "if the cannon were removed from the batteries and wharfs, but I ever considered their threats as a brutum fulmen, and even persuaded the town to be of the same way of thinking. We accordingly conveyed them to a place of safety in the middle of the day, and no cannonade ensued. Captain Parker publishes a pleasant reason for his passive conduct. He says that it was manifestly my intention, and that of the New England men under my command, to bring destruction on this town, so hated for their loyal principles, but that he was determined not to indulge it; so remained quiet out of spite. The people here laugh at his nonsense, and begin to despise the menaces which formerly used to throw them into convulsions."
Washington appears to have shared the merriment. In his reply to Lee he writes, "I could not avoid laughing at Captain Parker's reasons for not putting his repeated threats
*Fred. Rhinelander to Peter Van Schaack, Feb. 23. Am. Archives, v. 425.
into execution"-a proof, by the way, under his own hand, that he could laugh occasionally; and even when surrounded by perplexities.
According to Lee's account, the New Yorkers showed a wonderful alacrity in removing the cannon. "Men and boys of all ages," writes he, "worked with the greatest zeal and pleasure. I really believe the generality are as well-affected as any on the continent." Some of the well-affected, however, thought he was rather too self-willed and high-handed. "Though General Lee has many things to recommend him as a general," writes one of them, "yet I think he was out of luck when he ordered the removal of the guns from the battery; as it was without the approbation or knowledge of our Congress." *-Lee seldom waited for the approbation of Congress in moments of exigency.
He now proceeded with his plan of defenses. A strong redoubt, capable of holding three hundred men, was commenced at Horen's Hook, commanding the pass at Hell Gate, so as to block up from the enemy's ships the passage between the mainland and Long Island. A regiment was stationed on the island, making fascines and preparing other materials for constructing the works for an intrenched camp, which Lee hoped would render it impossible for the enemy to get a footing there. "What to do with this city," writes he, "I own, puzzles me. It is so encircled with deep navigable water that whoever commands the sea must command the town. To-morrow I shall begin to dismantle that part of the fort next to the town, to prevent its being converted into a citadel. I shall barrier the principal streets, and, at least, if I cannot make it a Continental garrison, it shall be a dis
* Fred. Rhinelander to Peter Van Schaack.