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in writing, on acc't of the uncertainty of the times, which you must excuse. Its a remarkable Healthy time, and our connections are well.
Col. John Chester's letter to Col. Samuel B. Webb, Aid-de-Camp to General Washington, Morristown.
WETHERSFIELD, January 17, 1777. MY DEAR FRIEND:– We all congratulate you on the place of honour you have lately shared in the victories over our common enemy, and pray for a continuation of successes, till they may be obliged to quit the Land or Kneel to Greet George the American. You cannot conceive the joy and raptures the people were universally in, as we passed the road. "Tis good to be the messenger of glad tidings. We were the first that brought the news to Peekskill, of ye Trenton affair. Gen'l Heath thought it a matter well worth forwarding by Express to Boston, which he did. We have such vague, uncertain accounts of these matters in general, that I cannot but think that it would richly pay the expense of forwarding accounts of this kind by Express. They make an amazing alteration in the faces of men and things..
Our assembly are determined, at all events, to fill up their 8 Battalions, if possible. They have granted a bounty of £10 Sterling in addition to the encouragement given by Congress; which, if money will induce men to engage, one would think was sufficient. The good news we have lately heard is worth £100,000 to Connecticut only in raising.
Report says that the Gen'l has desired you to ride into Connecticut to stimulate your Brethren in the good old cause; & that you declined leaving him at this critical season. How is it?
I wish you to transmit us the earliest accounts of any actions that may happen; we shall, in all cases, be able to improve them to good advantage. So many lies circulate that we are loath to believe the truth unless it comes well authenticated, from under hand and seal from headquarters.
Thos. Wooster has lately been with me, on his road to Boston, and begs me to write you about a Grenadier Regiment he heard you talk of; & which, he thinks, will be raised and hopes not to be forgot.
I am told that the assembly (which, by the way, have now been sitting more than 4 weeks at Middletown) have at last formed the Militia into Brigades and appointed their General officers. Great doings in Connecticut. Col. Juliez Huntington is appointed Major-General; Col. Dyer Saltinstal, Erastus Walcott, Oliver Walcott, Gen'l Wadsworth & Col. Sullivan are appointed Brigadiers. Old Gen'l Wooster takes command of them all as Major-General. I wish & hope, that it may answer some good purposes; tho’I much despair of the Militia's doing any great things, after my last Summer's experiences. Your humble servant has the honour to be appointed Lieutenant-Colonel under Col. Belding, Col. Talcott having resigned. But sooner will he go in the Ranks than submit to be Commanded by those who he has threatened to Court Martial, & call'd them all the lifeless, stupid, dull souls, that could be thought of.
The inhuman treatment our prisoners met with while in New York, is beyond all description. Humanity cannot but drop a tear at sight of the poor, miserable, starved objects. They are mere skeletons, unable to creep or speak in many instances. One vessel lost 27 in her passage from York to Milford, & 7 died the night they were put ashore; & they are dying all along the roads. Most who have got home in the neighboring towns, are taken with the small pox, which undoubtedly was given them by design-all this does not seem to discourage the few surviving ones. They pray that God would only give them health and strength again, & they are determined to have sweet revenge, & all swear they will never be taken again. Is this a proof of the much boasted humanity of Britóns? Is this a generous return for the kind and hospitable treatment their prisoners have rec'd at our hands? Do they think by these mean, low arts to dishearten our countrymen? Depend on it, they have universally a contrary effect; for men who determined never to fight are bent upon it now. Write us the news of the day. Mrs. Chester & family, join me in compliments to you. Your sincere friend & humble serv't,
On the death of my father, December 13, 1807, there were seven of us orphans,-only one of them younger than myself; and the executors, Gen. Jacob Rutsen Van Rensselaer and Prosper M. Hosmer, considered that they discharged their whole duty as executors, by permitting the old housekeeper—who had been in the family since 1790, and who died in it in 1820—to continue the establishment; they simply supplying the means. She was one of the best creatures that ever lived; of German descent, but could neither read nor write. She was devoted to us children, and we to her; and to this day, I am not conscious of ever hearing any other names applied to her, except “Mammy Betsey.” Her one idea of duty, was to render us happy; and, of course, the only mode to accomplish this, according to her judgment, was to let us do as we pleased.
I have no doubt but my father, at his death, left to us a more accurate and detailed statement of the incidents and events of the Revolution, than had been prepared by any other individual. From the day he marched from Wethersfield to take part in the battle of Bunker Hill, and for years previous, he never failed, except from illness, to write up his journal of the day. He rarely destroyed a paper; and the accumulated records, embracing the entire period from 1774 to 1784, filled two monstrous chests, not less than five feet long and of proportionate width; and every scrap of paper, in this great mass of manuscript correspondence, journals and accounts, was as accurately and carefully filed, as are the archives of any court of record; and all these treasures, were left to be treated as best suited the whims of children. The letters of Washington, Jay, Hamilton, and other notables, were scattered broad-cast among our school-fellows. What was particularly attractive, were the books of blotting paper we prepared for them. And how, think you, it was done? My father, who was exceedingly neat and precise (as well as expensive in his habits), had blank books, of uniform size, prepared for his journal, with covers of soft leather; and between the sheets of writing paper, was bound up a sheet of blotting paper. These journals were carefully labelled A, B, C, extending through the entire alphabet; and then a new series commenced, marked AA, BB, CC, and so on down to PP. And those invaluable records of our great war of independence, in relation to which he, from his position, knew prob
ably as much as any individual, save the Commander-in-Chief;—we children, left to ourselves by executors who, however high their social position, were no better than vandals,—deliberately, but in profound ignorance, destroyed! We tore out of those journals and destroyed all the written manuscript contained in them; and presented the pretty little books of blotting paper to our schoolfellows. One only, of the entire series, remains.
But independent of this regular series of journals, embracing all passing events, it appears that my father was accustomed to keep a kind of blotter, composed of unbound sheets of foolscap, carefully sewed together; on one page of which, when Aid-de-Camp to General Washington, he carefully drafted the orders of the day, to be issued; while on the opposite page, he wrote, from day to day, what he termed “ Remarks and occurrences, &c.”
In 1846, the Philadelphia Gazette, contained an editorial, stating that a gentleman had recently come in possession of part of a journal, &c., purporting to have been kept by Samuel B. Webb, in 1776; which could not fail to be of interest to his heirs, if any existed; and inviting such, if any, to address William B. Reed on the subject.
I immediately addressed a note to my friend, Colonel Reed, apprising him that I was the son of General Samuel B. Webb, claiming the waif; and I desire here to say of my old friend—who was the grandson of Colonel Joseph Reed, an Aid-de-Camp of Washington at the same time as my father, and subsequently, adjutant general of the army—that, although he recently died in this city under a cloud, and had fallen from the high position he once occupied, he was a warm-hearted, cultivated gentleman; and in social life, one of the most agreeable and fascinating men of his time. His public career terminated with his mission to China; and, familiar as I have been with all our public men from 1820 to 1875, I know of but few who, socially, were Colonel Reed's equals.
My letter promptly brought the journal, with the following note:
PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 24, 1846. MY DEAR WEBB:—I intended to see you before you left town and say what I now must write. Your father's journal; which, of its kind, is a perfect historical gem, ought to belong to you, and you ought to take good care of it.
By the express of to-morrow, you will receive it. As I have some doubt of my right to part with it, I wish you to consider it in your hands subject to restoration, and say so in a note to me. There is no probability of any demand being made.
Among my papers I find an incidental notice of your father in a skirmish on December 4, 1777, near Chestnut Hill. In haste, truly yours,
WILLIAM B. REED. I published in the Courier and Enquirer several extracts from this journal; and subsequently, loaned it to Mr. Lossing, the historian. When he returned it to me, it was accompanied by the following letter:
POUGHKEEPSIE, Jan. 6, 1854. GENERAL WEBB,
Dear Sir:-1 hasten to comply with the request contained in your note of yesterday. My apology for keeping the journal of your honored father, so long, is that I was waiting to find time to make an abstract of its most important particulars for preservation. Each day brought its pressing duties, and I .deferred it. On the receipt of your note, I sat down to the task; and now have the pleasure to acknowledge the gratification which has been afforded me.
You are doubtless aware, that all the remainder of the edition of my “Field Book," was consumed with Harper's establishment.
I am now preparing it for a new and improved edition; and am happy to have it in my power to insert in a note, the fact, that your father; as Aid to the Commander-in-Chief, wrote the order respecting the reading of the Declaration of Independence to the army, the destruction of the statue of George III. and other notable events during the Summer of 1776. I also observe that your father and Colonel Joseph Reed, were the persons who met a flag from General Howe; and when the bearer presented them with letters directed to “ George Washington, Esq." instead of “General Washington,” patriotically refused to receive them. All honor to the noble hearts of men so zealous of even the smallest courtesies due the beloved commander of the “rebel army!”
Their names and deeds, should not perish with the grass that was flowering when they were achieved. Very truly yours,
BENSON J. LOSSING,
No. 66 South avenue. To General JAMES WATSON WEBB, New York.