Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"Taking Sides with... the Rebel Congress & the Rebel Army" in 1777

Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Susan reporting,

For most American teenagers today, Independence Day and the Revolution it led to aren't things to be given much thought during summer vacation from school (unless they're Hamilfans, and then they're rapping the Revolution along with the HamiltonAn American Musical soundtrack.)

But for sixteen-year-old Samuel Ring, a young Quaker living near Chadds Ford, PA in 1777, the Revolution was unavoidable. He witnessed the Battle of Brandywine first-hand, and watched the British destroy his home afterwards. His family had dared to side with the Continental Army, and had been branded as traitors. (I've written before about the Ring family, here in this post.)

The following excerpt comes from recollections that were written by Samuel's son, also named Samuel, in 1859. The letters remain with his descendants, and a copy is now in the collection of the Brandywine Battlefield Park; to the best of their knowledge, these recollections haven't been published. Although written over 80 years after the battle, the details (like eating the peaches in his family's orchard, as well as the betrayal by their neighbors) are exactly what a teenager would remember.

On the morning of September 11,1777, Samuel's father and older brother had gone to serve Washington as guides to the area, while his mother and the younger children had fled their home to avoid the coming battle, first attempting to leave by carriage, and then escaping by foot over the fields. Too young to be with the army, yet too old to be with his mother, Samuel remained near the family's house.

"[Samuel] said that he left in a hurry in the morning, on some errand, with only shirt and pantaloons on, thinking nothing of what was coming, and before his return, the road was completely blocked [by soldiers]. There was no chance of approaching very near the house, so he made for the higher ground where he could view the contending armies, out of harm's way.

"He was in a peach tree with some others, eating peaches, when the Americans gave way; he never heard such a noise, it appeared as if all the fiends of the infernal regions were let loose. He quit eating, his heart seemed to sink, he knew that the enemies of his country had triumphed.

"[His] family was scattered and part did not know where the others were. All he had was on his back, and that was almost nothing; his home was in the hands of the enemy, and liable to be laid in ashes, which, indeed, a good part soon was.

"The British occupied the ground for three days and nights....When the British retired and [Samuel] returned home, desolation was complete. He thought of changing his clothes, but a glance at the house made him think it doubtful whether there were any left there for him.

"He went upstairs to his chest - it was open, the lid broken off, and not a vestige of anything in it, and indeed not an article of clothing of any sort remained about the house. The beds [mattresses] had been ripped open, the feathers strewed over the yard (they had had about a dozen good beds) and not a sign of either beds or bedsteads [remained]. The latter had been used for fuel...and not a rail was left – all burned. Not a fowl, sheep, or hog was left on the place...the yard and fields torn up by the horse and baggage wagons and common carriages. [The British] had used a part of the house as a stable. Desolation reigned, and the work of the destroyer complete.

"[Samuel's son later] asked him if that was the way the neighborhood had been served generally, and he said it was quite different with some, their property was respected and a guard put over it, and the smallest thing left unharmed.

"[Samuel's son] asked the cause of this (being quite small and [knowing] little of such things, and [Samuel had answered] that his father favored the side of the colonies in every way, so far as his religion would permit, and many thought he went farther in his politics than he ought in taking sides with what was called the Rebel Congress and Rebel Army, and the fact of Gen. Washington having his headquarters for the time being at our house when he came to view the battlefield - and there is no doubt that had he been victorious he would have taken up his headquarters there again; all this the British general knew. There were scores in the neighborhood ready to carry news, and this was the cause of the destruction of [his father's] property. Whilst others were protected, he was pointed out as a rebel and his property given over to the enemy for destruction...."

Although the Ring farm was looted and vandalized and the contents of the house destroyed, the stone house itself survived. A restoration of the house is today part of Brandywine Battlefield Park, and is open to the public. See here for more information. A major reenactment of the battle to mark its 240th anniversary will take place this fall; see here for more information.

Many thanks to Andrew Outten for his assistance with this post.

Above: "The Nation Makers" by Howard Pyle, c1902, Brandywine River Museum of Art.


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