Slike strani

Hugh Mercer, the veteran of Culloden and Fort Duquesne. His military spirit was alert as ever; the talent he had shown in organizing the Virginia militia, and his zeal and efficiency as a member of the committee of safety, had been properly appreciated by Congress, and on the 5th of June he had received the commission of brigadier-general. He was greeted by Washington with the right hand of fellowship. The flying camp was about forming. The committee of safety of Pennsylvania were forwarding some of the militia of that province to the Jerseys, to perform the service of the camp until the militia levies, specified by Congress, should arrive. Washington had the nomination of some Continental officer to the command. He gave it to Mercer, of whose merits he felt sure, and sent him over to Paulus Hook, in the Jerseys, to make arrangements for the Pennsylvania militia as they should come in; recommending him to Brigadier-general William Livingston as an officer on whose experience and judgment great confidence might be reposed.

Livingston was a man inexperienced in arms, but of education, talent, sagacity, and ready wit. He was of the New York family of the same name, but had resided for some time in the Jerseys, having a spacious mansion in Elizabethtown, which he had named Liberty Hall. Mercer and he were to consult together, and concert plans to repel invasions; the New Jersey militia, however, were distinct from the flying camp, and only called out for local defense. New Jersey's greatest danger of invasion was from Staten Island, where the British were throwing up works, and whence they might attempt to cross to Amboy. The flying camp was therefore to be stationed in the neighborhood of that place.

"The known disaffection of the people of Amboy," writes Washington, "and the treachery of those on Staten Island,

who, after the fairest professions, have shown themselves our most inveterate enemies, have induced me to give directions that all persons of known enmity and doubtful character should be removed from those places."

According to General Livingston's humorous account, his own village of Elizabethtown was not much more reliable, being peopled in those agitated times by "unknown, unrecommended strangers, guilty-looking tories, and very knavish whigs."

While danger was gathering round New York, and its inhabitants were in mute suspense and fearful anticipations, the General Congress at Philadelphia was discussing, with closed doors, what John Adams pronounced-"The greatest question ever debated in America, and as great as ever was or will be debated among men. "" The result was a resolution passed unanimously, on the 2d of July, "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States."

"The 2d of July," adds the same patriotic statesman, "will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to Almighty God. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forth for evermore.'

The glorious event has, indeed, given rise to an annual jubilee, but not on the day designated by Adams. The Fourth of July is the day of national rejoicing, for on that day the "Declaration of Independence," that solemn and

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

sublime document, was adopted. Tradition gives a dramatic effect to its announcement. It was known to be under discussion, but the closed doors of Congress excluded the populace. They awaited, in throngs, an appointed signal. In the steeple of the state house was a bell, imported twenty-three years previously from London, by the Provincial Assembly of Pennsylvania. It bore the portentous text from Scripture: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof." A joyous peal from that bell gave notice that the bill had been passed. It was the knell of British domination.

No one felt the importance of the event more deeply than John Adams, for no one had been more active in producing it. We quote his words written at the moment: "When I look back to the year 1761, and recollect the argument concerning writs of assistance in the superior court, which I have hitherto considered as the commencement of the controversy between Great Britain and America, and run though the whole period from that time to this, and recollect the series of political events, the chain of causes and effects; I am surprised at the suddenness, as well as the greatness of this Revolution; Great Britain has been filled with folly, America with wisdom."

His only regret was that the declaration of independence had not been made sooner. "Had it been made seven months ago,” said he, "we should have mastered Quebec, and been in possession of Canada, and might before this hour have formed alliances with foreign states. Many gentlemen in high stations and of great influence have been duped by the ministerial bubble of commissioners to treat, and have been slow and languid in promoting measures for the reduction of that province."

Washington hailed the declaration with joy. It is true it was but a formal recognition of a state of things which had long existed, but it put an end to all those temporizing hopes of reconciliation which had clogged the military action of the country.

On the 9th of July he caused it to be read at six o'clock in the evening, at the head of each brigade of the army. "The general hopes," said he in his orders, "that this important event will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer and soldier to act with fidelity and courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of his country depend, under God, solely on the success of our arms; and that he is now in the service of a state possessed of sufficient power to reward his merit, and advance him to the highest honors of a free country."

The excitable populace of New York were not content with the ringing of bells to proclaim their joy. There was a leaden statue of George III. on the Bowling Green, in front of the fort. Since kingly rule is at an end, why retain its effigy? On the same evening, therefore, the statue was pulled down amid the shouts of the multitude, and broken up to be run into bullets "to be used in the cause of independence.

[ocr errors]

Some of the soldiery having been implicated in this popular effervescence, Washington censured it in general orders, as having much the appearance of a riot and a want of discipline, and the army was forbidden to indulge in any ir. regularities of the kind. It was his constant effort to inspire his countrymen in arms with his own elevated idea of the cause in which they were engaged, and to make them feel that it was no ordinary warfare, admitting of vulgar passions and perturbations. "The general hopes and trusts,"

said he, "that every officer and man will endeavor so to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier, defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.”*


Arrival of more Ships-Movements of the "Phoenix" and the "Rose"-Panic in the City-Hostile Ships up the HudsonStir of War along the River-General George Clinton, and the Militia of Ulster County-Fresh Agitation of New York-Arrival of Lord Howe

THE exultation of the patriots of New York, caused by the Declaration of Independence, was soon overclouded. On the 12th of July several ships stood in from sea and joined the naval force below. Every nautical movement was now a matter of speculation and alarm, and all the spyglasses in the city were incessantly reconnoitering the bay.

"The enemy are now in the harbor," writes an American officer, "although they have not yet ventured themselves within gunshot of the city, but we hourly expect to be called into action. The whole army is out between two and three every morning, at their respective alarm posts, and remain there until sunrise. I am morally certain that it will not be long before we have an engagement."

Scarce had this letter been penned, when two ships of war were observed getting under way and standing toward the city. One was the "Phoenix," of forty guns; the other the "Rose," of twenty guns, commanded by Captain Wallace, of unenviable renown, who had marauded the New England coast, and domineered over Rhode Island. The

* Orderly Book, July 9, Sparks, iii. 456.

[blocks in formation]
« PrejšnjaNaprej »