Wednesday, September 23, 2015

George Washington's Horses

   A few final words about George Washington, horseman. Washington had two favorite horses he rode during the Revolutionary War. The first was a horse called Blueskin (Blewskin) and the second was a horse called Nelson.

   Blueskin is, allegedly, the gray or white horse seen in paintings of Washington mounted on a horse  As mentioned in a previous post, Washington had a preference for white and gray horses, so it is not surprising that he would choose one to ride during the war. Unfortunately, there are no contemporary paintings or sketches of Blueskin and those paintings of Washington on a white horse were painted well after his death. Also, unfortunately for Washington, Blueskin was skittish under fire and became hard to control. Therefore, he rode another horse when he went into battle.
Rembrandt Peale 1830
   Washington acquired Blueskin sometime early during the war. We don't know how old he was since the only description we have is "mature." He was described as of a "dark iron-gray color, approaching to blue, "; a fiery animal with great endurance in a long run. The horse was a gift to Washington from Benjamin and Elizabeth Dulaney of Maryland. The Dulaneys were close friends with George Washington's wastrel stepson John Parke Custis (Jackie) who loved horse racing. Jackie had been sent to school in Alexandria with an Anglican minister named Johnathan Boucher. When the Rev Boucher moved his school to Annapolis, Maryland, Jackie went with him as his pupil. There Jackie became very close friends with Benjamin Dulaney. Benjamin Dulaney later married  Elizabeth French, the daughter of Daniel French, a wealthy Fairfax planter who lived at Rose Hill, located about five miles west of Alexandria. French, who died in 1771, owned 552 acres in the Mount Vernon area to which Washington was trying to acquire title. However, Daniel French's widow, Penelope, was refusing to relinquish her life right to those acres. The Dulaneys were frequent dinner guests at Mount Vernon.

   We do not know what breed of horse Blueskin was but the belief is that he was half-Arabian, sired by the stallion "Ranger", otherwise known as "Lindsey's Arabian". I was unable to find any evidence to corroborate that belief. "Lindsay's Arabian" is a legendary American sire, pure Arabian, with a fascinating history. Legend has it that the Emperor of Morocco gave a pure Arabian stallion to the Captain of a British Frigate for some unknown service to the Emperor's son. The Frigate Captain planned to take him to England where he expected to sell him for a hefty price. For some reason, the frigate called at one of the ports in the West Indies. The Frigate Captain, wanting to give the horse some exercise, let him run loose in a lumber yard where the horse broke three of his legs. At the same time, there was, in harbor, a ship's captain from New England who was a friend of the Frigate Captain. Faced with a horse with three broken legs, the frigate captain offered the horse to his New England friend if he could cure him. The New Englander accepted the offer and put the horse aboard his vessel. He rigged up sling and carefully set and bound the horse's legs. When the ship reached Connecticut, the horse's legs had been mended and he was put to covering mares.

   It is believed that Lindsey's Arabian reached Connecticut in 1766. He was described as a "white horse of the most perfect form and symmetry, rather above 15 hands high, and gallant temper, which gave him a lofty and commanding carriage and appearance."

Light Horse Harry Lee
In 1777 or 1778, "Light Horse Harry" Lee, Continental Army cavalry commander and father of Robert E. Lee,  and his officers became aware of some exceptionally fine horses that were being used as cavalry mounts by cavalrymen from New England. Lee sent one of his officers, a certain Captain Lindsey, to look into the matter and purchase the sire of these horses, if possible. Lindsey was successful, purchased this horse, named  "Ranger", and shipped him to Virginia where, as a full blooded Arabian, he started covering mares at an exceptionally high price and with outstanding results. Ranger later stood at stud at Piscataway, MD. His blood line is as famous as any in the history of horses in the United States.

   "Nelson"was a chestnut stallion who was given to Washington by Thomas Nelson, the Governor of Virginia in 1778, when Nelson heard that Washington was having trouble finding a replacement foe one of his mounts. Nelson soon became a favorite of Washington and he rode him when battle was nigh, In fact, Washington rode Nelson at Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown in 1781. Nelson was described as being sixteen hands high, chestnut ( or light sorrel) , with a white blaze and white legs.

   After the war, Washington retired Blueskin and Nelson to Mount Vernon where he hardly ever rode them but tried to pay them a visit every day. Nelson died at the age of 27.

   But we know, for certain, that Washington did own a stallion out of "Lindsey's

Arabian" (Ranger). After the surrender at Yorktown, Washington purchased two horses from his stepson Jackie's estate. Magnolia was purchased for £500 and was known as one of the most beautiful horses in the states, "a chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, 16 hands tall, and thought by all who saw him to be perfect," according to the Virginia Journal. Washington tried racing Magnolia without much success, then put him to work as a stud with a lot of success. In 1788, Washington traded Magnolia to Light Horse harry Lee for title to 5,000 acres in Kentucky.

 The horse at right is said by Mount Vernon to resemble Magnolia, except for the fact that he is a little smaller then Magnolia at 15 hands.

  I cannot conclude without mentioning Washington's slave valet William "Billy" Lee.  Billy rode a horse called Chinkling. Other than being described as a great leaper and being built much like his rider, low, but sturdy, and of great bone and muscle,we have no other description of Chinkling. But we do have a description of Billy Lee, a French horn at his back, throwing himself at full length on his horse, with his spur in flank, rushing at full speed through bramble and brush, astonishing even the best and most daring horsemen of his day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Washington Travels From Philadelphia to Cambridge III

   On Friday, June 30, 1775, Washington and his party departed Wethersfield bound for Springfield. It is approximately 35 miles from Wethersfield to Springfield, so, given Washington's travel habits, one might assume that he entered Springfield sometime after noon.

   In June 1775, Springfield, Mass was the most important town in Western Massachusetts, but still only had approximately 1200 residents and about 150 houses, very few of which were painted,  a newly built brick school house, and a Courthouse with a whipping post in front of it. The town had been burned down to the ground 110 years earlier during King Philip's War when Metacomet (King Philip) had incited the native Pocumtuc Indians (Deerfield) to rebel and burn nearby Springfield to the ground. Serious thought was given to abandoning Springfield but ultimately the decision to rebuild was taken. It occupied an important position and served as a gateway to Albany and to Hartford.

   The town rose on the east bank of the Connecticut River with pasture land descending to the river bank from the ridge. It was situated in some of the richest farm land in the colonies and the Connecticut River teemed with shad and salmon. Shad had been a staple of the American Indian diet and made runs of hundreds of thousands of fish up the Connecticut River to find fresh water spawning grounds and then back down again.  The salmon were so numerous that, in seining for shad, salmon also had to be caught. So many salmon were caught that shad came to be considered "poor man's food" and salmon came to be known as "Agawam Pork." It became so bad that a condition of hiring a laborer was that he had to eat shad a certain number of times per week; and a condition of buying shad that a certain amount of "Agawam Pork" had to be taken with it.

   There were three taverns in the town with the most prominent being that of Zenas Parsons whose tavern rose to a height unusual for a town the size of Springfield. Parsons' tavern was considered the best in town and was famous for miles around.

Parsons Tavern
   It was in Parsons Tavern that Washington and his party met up with the committee consisting of Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr and Moses Gill that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had sent to escort him to Cambridge. One presumes that Washington and Church had met earlier in Philadelphia when Church visited the Continental Congress, of which Washington was a member, and delivered some important documents from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Church and Gill informed Washington that the Massachusetts provincial Congress had appointed them a Committee to receive Washington "with every mark of respect" and had directed that gentlemen of each of the larger towns on the road to Cambridge would serve as an escort to General Washington and to General Lee all the way to Cambridge. Washington must have been really anxious by this time to get to Cambridge but he could not avoid this honor and courtesy. This was much the same thing he had experienced all of the way from Philadelphia.

   Washington, however, could take advantage of Church and Gill to be briefed on the situation around Boston and the disposition and condition of the Continental Army. There were few, if any, more prominent Whigs than Church in Boston. He had been one of its core members for years, had given an oration on the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, and was well known for his political tracts as well as his poetry. More importantly for Washington, Church had been a member of the Committee of Safety and had served as its Chairman for a brief period. No one knew more than Church. Moses Gill, on the other hand, was a member of the Committee of Supply and could give Washington a detailed account of the supply situation for the army currently besieging Boston.

   Washington, Lee, Church, Gill and the rest of the party departed Springfield on the morning of Saturday, July 1st 1775 bound for Brookfield, some 35 miles east on the road to Boston; and, again escorted by some prominent citizens. Tradition has it that Washington stopped  about a mile west of
Washington Elm, Palmer
 Palmer, Massachusetts, about 20 miles east of Springfield, and had lunch under a huge elm next to the tavern owned by Daniel Graves and his son Aaron. Washington's party allegedly sat under this elm tree and lunched on "milk and other necessaries" ordered from the Graves' tavern. The only problem with this legend is that it is said to occur on the day previous, June 30th. That could just be faulty memory, or not. But it does seem plausible that Washington would stop some 20 miles into the day's journey given his preference for starting early in the morning without eating breakfast. One last thing, I just can't get my arms around the mental image of George Washington drinking a glass of milk.

    Washington and his party proceeded to Brookfield, about 15 miles east of  Palmer, where his escort was changed, and then on to Worcester, where again the escort changed. At Worcester, the party stopped at the King's Arms Tavern, run by the widow Mary Sternes. Interestingly enough, this tavern, in a town of about 2000 residents, was known as a Tory meeting place and where Tories plotted against the town's Whigs. Upon hearing of the Declaration of Independence, patriots tore down the sign bearing "King's Arms" and burned it in the street. The widow Sternes kept the tavern, renamed Sternes Tavern, until her death in 1784. (The tavern is no longer standing.)

      The next stage of the journey was to the prescribed resting place of Marlborough where the party spent the night. Marlborough is about 25 miles from Watertown and it is where the Provincial Congress was meeting. Washington's party managed to travel 65 miles that day.
Boston Post Road Mile Marker
On Sunday, July 2nd, 1776, Washington, escorted by a company of light cavalry and some citizens traveled the 25 miles to Watertown where the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was in session. It is not clear just how long Washington spent with the Congress, most likely just enough time for each to present a short speech to each other. Washington then listened as another address was given to General Lee, who replied in only six sentences.          

Washington, at last, was able to start to reach the end of his long journey from Philadelphia, Escorted by cavalry, Washington rode the final three miles to Cambridge. Troops had been paraded the previous morning when a false report was received that Washington and Lee were to arrive that day, July 1st. Again on the morning of the 2nd, the troop were marched out to present honors to the generals. But rain started to fall and no one had positive notice of just when Washington would arrive. Once again the men were dismissed. So when Washington, Lee, and their party went down that wet road to take command of the Continental Army, they found only Sunday idlers in the Harvard College Yard, no committee to greet them, and no troops in formation to salute them. Washington was conducted to the house of Samuel Langdon,  President of Harvard, ( Benjamin Wadsworth House)  where the Provincial Congress had ordered that Washington and Lee were to have all of the rooms except for one assigned to President Langdon. One wonders just how that went over with Washington. Washington, at the time, said nothing and proceeded to meet the officers who had been summoned to meet him as soon as word of his arrival was received. Among them were Generals Artemus Ward and Israel Putnam.
Wadsworth House

   At 9 AM,  Monday, July 3, 1775,  Washington took formal command of the Continental Army.

   On July 4th, 1775, Church and Gill submitted a bill to the Provincial Congress for £28, 5 shillings, and ten pence for "the expense of escorting and entertaining Generals Washington and Lee from Springfield to the camp at Cambridge."


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Washington Travels From Philadelphia to Cambridge - II

   Before continuing with Washington's travels, it should be noted that amongst the nine companies of New York militia which met and escorted Washington into New York city on Sunday, June 25th, 1775 was a unit that called itself  the "Corsicans." They wore short green coats and leather caps with
King's College (Columbia) circa 1770
the inscription "Freedom or Death" on them. One of the privates in the Corsicans was a twenty year old student at King's College (Columbia). The student claimed to be eighteen but had shaved two years off of his age when a teenager on the Caribbean island of Nevis, probably to make it easier to gain an apprenticeship. Alexander Hamilton was already well-known amongst New York Whigs, having published several pamphlets supporting their cause. MGen Philip Schuyler was to be Hamilton's future father-in-law and, of course, Washington would be his mentor. Interestingly, there are no contemporary accounts indicating that Hamilton was introduced to Washington or Schuyler during Washington's visit. Perhaps no one considered it to be remarkable at the time.
   Given the news about Bunker Hill that Washington received on Sunday, it would seem that he would be anxious to proceed on his journey and assume command of the Continental Army located outside of Boston. In the Monday morning of June 26th, he drafted instructions to Schuyler, who was to take command of New York's defenses and the Continental troops in the state,  to consult with the Continental Congress as to what action he should take concerning Governor Tryon. Interestingly, Washington authorized Schuyler to report directly to Congress. The chain of command would not flow through Cambridge on to Philadelphia on subjects that required a prompt decision. Schuyler, thus, could operate independently of Washington when, in Schuyler's judgement, that was expedient.

   While Washington was occupied drafting Schuyler's instructions, he sent his aide, Lt Col Mifflin out shopping for some wine, some stationary, and a trunk. Two representatives of the New York Provincial Congress  arrived wishing to present an address to Washington and inquired as to what time would be convenient for him to receive it. As anxious as he was to depart, Washington could not refuse this request and set 2:30 as the time of the meeting. After receiving the address, Washington responded as follows:

Gentlemen, at the same time that with you I deplore the unhappy necessity of such an appointment as that with which I am honored, I cannot but feel sentiments of the highest gratitude for this affecting instance of distinction and regard. May your every wish be realized in the success of America at this important and interesting period; and be assured that every exertion of my worthy colleagues and myself will be equally extended to the reestablishment of Peace and Harmony between the Mother Country and the Colonies. As to the fatal, but Necessary, Operations of War. When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen, & new shall most sincerely rejoice with you in that happy hour, when the establishment of  American Liberty on the most firm and solid foundations, shall enable us to return to our private Stations in the bosom of a free, peaceful, & happy country.
   As incongruous this may sound to our ears 240 years later, Washington summarized the feelings of the overwhelming majority of Patriots and how they would express what they were fighting for in June 1775.
   Finally, Washington, accompanied by the two Major Generals, aides, and the Light Troop of Philadelphia cavalry, as well as by a contingent of New York militia and civilian New Yorkers set out once again for Cambridge.
Macomb Mansion, circa 1880
    Washington only got to Kingsbridge, New York (The Bronx) that day before he stopped, some fourteen miles above the city. Most likely he stayed over night at Cox's (Cock) tavern, a well-known tavern on the old Albany road originally constructed in 1669.
Loosing Field Book of the Revolution
Its owner, John Cox (Cock) was a well known Whig sympathizer who buried the head from the statue of King George II famously torn down in April 1775 in lower New York. The tavern was not the better of two taverns located in Kingsbridge but was more conveniently situated for the route Washington would take the following day. The tavern was purchased in 1797 by General Alexander Macomb, thus its designation.
   On Tuesday, June 27th 1775, Washington headed for New Haven, Connecticut, crossing Dyckman's Bridge taking the "road to Connecticut."  MGen Schuyler accompanied him as far as New Rochelle, New York where he and Washington conferred with David Wooster, head of the Connecticut militia whose units were incorporated into the Continental Army in mid-June 1775. Wooster was given a commission as a Brigadier General in the Continental Army. At the request of the New York Provincial Congress, the sixty-five year old Wooster had marched Colonel David Waterbury's 5th Connecticut Regiment south into New York to protect it from any British expedition. Schuler left the conference at about 10 AM to return to assume his duties defending New York.

   The Light Cavalry Troop of Philadelphia went no further than New Rochelle where they turned back for New York City.

Thaddeus Burr by John Singleton Copley,
 circa 1760
We do not know where Washington and his party spent the evening of the 27th of June but a local history indicates that he was "entertained" at the home of Thaddeus Burr in Fairfield, Connecticut, fifty miles north of Kingsbridge. .( The Burr family was prominent in Fairfield and Aaron Burr, Jr was a cousin of Thaddeus. Aaron Burr Sr. moved from Fairfield to Newark, NJ and Aaron Jr spent many a day at cousin Thaddeus' home and considered him somewhat of a surrogate father.) This means that Washington either took refreshment or spent the night there, or both. I think it is quite likely that Washington did, indeed, spend the night as the guest of Mr. Burr. The forty year old Thaddeus Burr was a man of wealth who owned a number of estates, a staunch patriot, and was a life long friend of John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress. Hancock visited Burr frequently at Fairfield and Burr spent most of his winters in Boston. In fact when Hancock was returning from Philadelphia, he married Dorothy Quincy on September 28th, 1775 at Burr's home. Hancock must have mentioned to Washington that his old friend had a home and estate on the road to Cambridge.

   Unfortunately, Burr's home was later burned by the British. On July 7, 1779, British troops, under the command of the previously mentioned Governor Tryon of New York, landed at Fairfield and burned the town to the ground. 97 homes, to include the Burr estate, were burned. The devastation was so great that a decade later, Washington, when visiting the town, noted that the devastation could still be seen and the chimneys of burned houses were still standing. A few weeks after the burning, Hancock visited his old friend and, according to local legend, advised him that he would provide all of the glass for the building of a new home if Burr would build an exact replica of Hancock's mansion on Beacon Hill in Boston. The house, built in 1790, is still standing and is now a museum owned by the town of Fairfield. I doubt  this Georgian style home resembles John  Hancock's Beacon Hill mansion .
Thaddeus/Eunice Burr House, Fairfield, CT (1790)

   On June 28th, 1775, Washington and his party reached New Haven, only 30 miles from Fairfield.  Washington's approach was known in advance and some Yale students who had formed a volunteer
Issac Beers Tavern
militia company asked Washington if he would review them. Washington agreed to this and among the student militia, some 100 strong, was a young Noah Webster, the lexicographer, who marched playing either the fife or the drum.  Two other companies of militia made arrangements to muster the following morning and escort Washington out of town. Washington stayed overnight at the Beers tavern, (no longer standing). The Beers tavern was where, on April 20th, 1775, Benedict Arnold, as captain of the Governor's Foot Guard, rode his horse up to the tavern door, and demanded that the Town Selectman turn over the keys to the powder house. This started Benedict Arnold's rise to prominence. (Check the Index Page for my posts on Benedict Arnold).

   Washington was reportedly chafing at the slow progress he was now making but felt that he could not ignore theses requests on his time. At this point Washington could take one of three routes to Cambridge. All were titled the King's Highway. We know it as the Boston Post Road and parts of it are still labeled such today.( I take a part of the Upper Boston Post Road when I visit my sister in Western Massachusetts.)

The King's Highway (Boston Post Road)
    Washington chose to take the Upper Post Road which was the fastest, the most popular, had the fewest river crossings,, and reportedly had the finest taverns of all three routes on it.

Elizabeth Deane, 1760
By Joseph Trumbull
On June 29th, 1775, Washington set out for Wethersfield some 35 miles away and just south of Hartford, with the Yale student militia company and the other two militia companies escorting him for several miles out of  New Haven reportedly as far as "neck bridge." Washington noted that the summer had been dry in the lower Connecticut Valley and along the northern shore of Long Island Sound, but observing, with admiration, "a great deal of delightful country...covered with a very different manner to what our lands in Virginia are." At New London, which he had visited in 1756, Washington saw some familiar faces and houses, and, at Wethersfield, he dined with Elizabeth Deane, the wife of Silas Deane, prominent patriot, who was serving as a delegate to the Continental Congress and who Washington had gotten to know quite well  It is also believed that Washington spent the night at the Deane home. The Deane home still stands in Wethersfield and is being restored to its original condition. A piazza original to the house is missing. Washington was carrying the following letter from Silas to his wife Elizabeth :

Philadelphia Jun22,1775. This will be handed to you by his Excellency, General Washington in company with General Lee, and retinue. Should they lodge a night in Wethersfield, you will accommodate their horses, servants, &c, in the best manner at the tavern, and their retinue will likely go on to Hartford.

Silas Deane House
   On his way to Wethersfield, Washington stopped in Durham, Ct, some 20 miles south, and met with then Captain Jeremiah Wadsworth, who would in 1778 be selected Commissary General of the Continental Army, probably to discuss provisions for the army since Wadsworth had already been appointed to purchase certain provisions for the Connecticut militia. Washington also stopped at John Swathal's tavern, perhaps to obtain some fresh horses. Wadsworth claimed in his diary that he furnished Washington a horse which Washington used to draw his carriage
Jeremiah Wadsworth and son, 1780
John Trumbull

   The next morning, Friday,  Jun 30, 1775, Washington set out for Springfield where he was to meet up with the delegation sent to meet him by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Washington's party traveled up the west side of the Connecticut River entering Massachusetts at Agawam, crossed the Westfield River into West Springfield and took the lower ferry across the Connecticut River into Springfield.

To Be Continued