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affair in the Connecticut Gazette (December 19, 1777) not appearing to have been reprinted is here given.
“A plan having been formed to bring off or destroy a Magazine of Military Stores which the Enemy had, at Shetochet on Long Island, and to destroy some shipping loaded with Timber at Southold-on Tuesday Night of last week part of two Battalions of Troops embarked from this State, under convoy of the Sloop Schuyler, and the Spy and Mifflin Schooners. Unfortunately the next morning, just before Light, the Faulkland, a British Frigate, in her Passage from New York to Newport came a-cross the Schuyler and two Smaller Vessels, when the latter run a-shore upon the Island, but the former, on attempting to get in with the Land, run upon a Spit of Sand called the Old-Man's, and was taken with about sixty Troops on Board, among whom were the following Officers, viž.: Cols. Ely and Webb, Capt. Buckland, Lieut. Riley, Ensn Mumford, Adjutant Hopkins, and Quarter Master Starr of Webb's Battalion, and Ensignis Niles and Abbott and Adjutant West of Ely's Battalion. On Thursday a Party of men under Capt. Hart marched to Southold and were very near making Prisoners of Capt. Ascough and upwards of 20 Men belonging to the ship Swan who were at a House in Southold, but they getting Intelligence of Capt Hart's Approach hasted to their Boats. They were closely pursued, and as they were getting on Board were fired upon, when most of them were killed or wounded, Capt Ayscough it is tho't was killed. Seven Marines and Seamen were made Prisoners. Our Troops, after tarrying several Days on the Island, returned to the Main, without having opportunity to affect any thing considerablethe Shipping having left Southold and we learn the Magazine has been removed.”
Partisan warfare is the most uncertain branch of the profession. The least miscalculation affects the whole plan. The main portion of Colonel Webb’s battalion escaped capture; their return from Long Island is noticed in the Connecticut Gazette letter of the 26th December. They were marched from New London to Peekskill, where they remained on duty during the following year as a part of the Highland garrison. They were later consolidated with the other Connecticut troops on the Continental establishment in January, 1781.
Colonel Webb, as is stated in the same number of the Gazette, was carried to Newport, where, after remaining a few days, he was allowed to come out on parole, and went to Wethersfield. This, however, seems to have been premature. The Council minutes note that “ Lieut Col Lawrence was voted to be exchanged
for Col Samuel Webb; and Lawrence to go to New York on his parole, and if not exchanged, to return by the 6th of February, 1778.” His orginal parole is preserved. It is quoted as an example. “I, Samuel B. Webb, of Wethersfield, in Connecticut, having leave to go to Long Island on Parole, do hereby pledge my Faith & Word of Honor that I will not do or say any thing contrary to the interest of his Majesty or his Government, and that I will not depart from the House I am placed in by the Commissary for Prisoners nor go beyond the Bounds by him presented. Given under my Hand this Twenty fifth Day of Fevruary, 1778;" and on the margin is endorsed, “A new one given 14th May, 1778."
Colonel Webb was carried to New York, but in common with most of the American officers on parole, was dissatisfied with the treatment extended to them by the British officers, and at his request was permitted to leave the city, the parole limits not extending beyond Flushing; but this change does not appear to have been a change for the better, for at Flatbush the prisoners were consigned to the custody of Colonel William Axtell and his nephew, Captain Frederick De Peyster, both strong tories. Their command, according to the Reverend Dr. Thomas M. Strong, whose History of Flatbush is the best local authority, “was taken from the lowest ranks, and were mostly persons of bad moral character. The company was called the Nassau Blues, but from their low and generally miserable appearance, were nick-named by the inhabitants the 'Nasty Blues.'”
The exchange of prisoners was a subject of constant trouble and dissatisfaction, there being for a long period no settled basis of exchange.
Soon after his capture, 29th December, 1777, Colonel Webb addressed a letter to General Washington, informing him of his misfortune and entreating his personal interference to procure a special exchange. He named Lieutenat Colonel Campbell as a fit subject for exchange. Naturally this application failed, the general properly observing that there were “several officers now in captivity with the Enemy of your Rank, taken at Three Rivers in 1775, at Long Island, Fort Washington and Germantown.” “So far as Exchanges have depended on me, or as they may rest with me,” said the general in his reply of January 8, 1778, “they have been, and ever will be, conducted on one principle, to wit: to release those first who were first captured as far as circumstances of rank would apply. There is no other rule by which impartial justice can be done.” This reply could not have been unexpected to Colonel Webb. In his letter to the General he confesses that from the letters which passed between Washington, when he was on his staff, and General Howe, he had little reason “to flatter himself of it taking place.” There being no other way of release but a general exchange, Colonel Webb turned himself with his usual energy to this object, and endeavored, both by interview and correspondence with British officers in a similar situation as himself, such as Phillips, Reidesel, and other Convention prisoners, and with Loring, the British CommissaryGeneral of prisoners, to devise a plan which would be mutually satisfactory. The difficulties in the way of any arrangement are more easily discernible now than they were then; the motives of Washington and the secret instruction of Congress throw light on the policy which gorerned the American authorities. To Congress the American officers in confinement appealed in 1779. and Colonel Webb was appointed by them to present the memorial. As a preliminary step he, by permission, visited General Washington at his Headquarters at Middletown, in February, 1779, and obtained from him “a calculation made from the last returns of the Commissary of Prisoners," as a basis for the exchange.
It was not, however, until January, 1781, that Colonel Webb was finally released. His regimental orders of the 7th February express the satisfaction he felt in rejoining his command. On the 7th of August, 1782, Congress passed an Act, for reforming and consolidating the army, to take effect January 1, 1783. On the 21st of the same month, Washington, from his headquarters at Newburgh, issued a general order assembling the Light Infantry and embodying their battalions in two regiments. Colonel Webb was made a Brig.-Gen. by the general Act of Congress, of September 30, 1783, which fixed promotions He was one of the founders of the General Society of the Cincinnati, and later active in the organization of the New York Branch. On the 20th October, 1779, Colonel Webb married Eliza Bancker, daughter of Richard Bancker, of New York. This lady died in the spring of 1782.
After the war he lived for some years in the city of New York. He appears in the New York City Directory of 1786, as residing at 4 Dock, now Pearl Street, the most fashionable quarter of the city. His name is entered as “gentleman." Inheriting a large fortune from his father he followed no occupation, as this term implies. In 1790 he married his second wife, Catharine, youngest daughter of Judge Hogeboom, of Claverack, and Hillitjie Müller his wife. The Judge was descended from one of the old grantees of the Rensselaer Manor.
The Webb house at Wethersfield, a view of which is here given, is still standing. It was the common resting place for American officers and gentlemen of distinction on their passage through Connecticut, and was known among them, from the generous courtesy of its occupants, as “ Hospitality Hall.” Its chief interest to the historical student is derived from its having been the spot selected for the conferences held between Washington and Rochambeau. There are numerous accounts of these two interviews which took place on the 20th September, 1780, and the 21st May, 1781—at the latter of which the plan of campaign, which opened with the operations before New York, and ended with the capitualation of Yorktown, was concerted.
The family manuscripts from which many of the details of this sketch have been taken, abound in testimony to the esteem and friendship in which Col. Webb was held by his companions in arms. He was on intimate terms with the beaux esprits of the army, who held the character of the American service as high for courtesy in the camp as for gallantry in the field. These intimacies he maintained to the end of his life. He died at Claverack, N. Y., December 30, 1807. Of his children by his second wife, the Hon. James Watson Webb is best known. In his youth he was a Lieutenant in the 3d U. S. Artillery, and has since represented the United States as Minister to Brazil ; his son, Gen. Alexander S. Webb, late of the United States army, did efficient and gallant service in the civil war, and is now the President of the College of New York. Gen. Geo. Webb Morell is a grandson of Gen. Samʼl B. Webb.
JOHN AUSTIN STEVENS.