“My knees then smote one against the other”: Highlights from Supplement to Early American Imprints, Shaw-Shoemaker
This month’s release of new material in the Early American Imprints Supplement from the American Antiquarian Society includes:
• a biographical account of a young American rebel who was wounded and captured by the British in the Battle of Hubbardton
• an odd tale of a vision experienced by a traveler in the early 19th century
• and an appeal from the Shakers in New York, pleading for their status as conscientious objectors to military service.
A narrative of the captivity & sufferings of Ebenezer Fletcher, of New-Ipswich, who was severely wounded and taken prisoner at the battle of Hubbardston, Vt. in the year 1777, by the British and Indians at the age of 16 years, after recovering in part, made his escape from the enemy and travelling through a dreary wilderness, followed by wolves, and beset by Tories, and by the assistance of a friend arrived safe home. Written by himself, and published at the request of his friends (1813)
The Revolutionary War’s battle at Hubbardton, Vermont, was an engagement of significant importance in the early phase of the war. The state of Vermont’s Historic Sites web page describes it:
Here, on the steamy morning of July, 7, 1777, the Green Mountain Boys and others stayed behind as a rear guard to slow the advance of the Redcoats so the main American force would have time to retreat. On these green hills, the Americans made a defiant stand. Though outnumbered, the Americans successfully halted the British, and retreated southward, winning successful battles later that year at Bennington and Saratoga.
Fought in the green hills of Hubbardton in the early morning of July, 7, 1777, the Battle of Hubbardton is the only Revolutionary War battle on Vermont soil [the Battle of Bennington having actually occurred in New York] and one of the most successful rear guard actions in American history. It was here that British General John Burgoyne’s seasoned and well-trained Regulars met for the first time the resistance and bravery of Americans in battle.
Surely, Ebenezer Fletcher was one of the brave American soldiers who engaged in that fateful battle. He had enlisted as a fifer for a three-year hitch and was posted at Ticonderoga. During the battle at Hubbardston he was wounded and taken captive. Subsequently he published this first-person account of his ordeal.
I made shelter for myself and discharged my piece. Having loaded again and taken aim, my piece missed fire. I brought the same a second time to my face; but before I had time to discharge it I received a musket ball in the small of my back and fell with my gun cocked. My uncle Daniel Foster standing but little distance from me, I made out to crawl to him and spoke to him. He and another man lifted me and carried me back some distance and laid me down behind a tree, where was another man crying out most bitterly with a grievous wound. By this time I had bled so freely, I was very weak and faint.
Fletcher describes his painful attempt to hide from the enemy which was not successful. He was discovered and believed to be dead. The British began to remove his shoes on that assumption.
I looked up and spoke, telling them I was their prisoner, and begged to be used well. “Damn you, says one, you deserve to be used well, don’t you? What’s such a young rebel as you fighting for?” One of these men was an officer, who appeared to be a pretty sort of a man. He spoke to the soldier, who had taken my shoes, and says, “Give back the shoes and help the man to camp.”
This exchange encapsulates his experience. By some of his captors he was scorned, while by others he was treated decently.
The Doctors appeared to be very kind and faithful. They pulled several pieces of my clothes from my wound, which were forced in by the ball received.
Some of the enemy were very kind; while others were very spiteful and malicious. One of them came and took my silver shoe-buckles and left me an old pair of brass ones and said, exchange was no robbery; but I thought it robbery at a high rate. Another came and took off my neck handkerchief. An old negro came and took my fife, which I considered as the greatest insult I had received while with the enemy. The Indians often came and abused me with their language; calling us Yankees and rebels; but they were not allowed to injure us. I was stripped of every thing valuable to me.
Fletcher details his capture and his treatment, once again praising the doctors. Of the under surgeon in charge of his care, he recounts that
he never gave me any insulting or abusive language; he sometimes would say, “Well, my lad, think you’ll be willing to list in the King’s service if you should get well?” My answer was always no. The officers would flatter me to list in their service; telling me they were very sure to conquer the country, since they had got our strongest post. I told them I should not list.
It is striking to realize that our narrator was barely sixteen years old at the time of his wounding and capture. Perhaps his youth inspired some of the compassion he received from a few of his captors. He describes two who tended to the captives and sought to make him as comfortable and well fed as they could.
The difference in mankind never struck me more sensibly than while a prisoner. Some would do every thing in their power to make me comfortable and cheerful; while others abused me with the vilest language; telling me that the prisoners would all be hanged; that they would drive all the damned rebels into the sea, and that their next winter quarters would be in Boston; but to their great disappointment and chagrin, as prisoners of war.
Fletcher seizes an opportunity to escape and recounts a harrowing tale of his attempt to evade recapture including being tracked by wolves and later by bears. He met with some assistance by local farmers, but they feared the consequences if the British discovered their succor. At last he reached safety and soon rejoined his company in Pennsylvania where
We afterwards went on an expedition against the Indians, to Genesee country, where we burnt the huts & destroyed the corn of the savages–but found them little disposed to meet us in the open field.
And he concludes:
And now, kind reader, wishing that you may forever remain ignorant of the real sufferings of the veteran soldier, from hunger and cold, from sickness and captivity, I bid you a cordial adieu.
The flaming sword, or A sign from heaven: being a remarkable phenomenon, seen in the state of Vermont (1812)
This publication also concerns events that occurred in the Green Mountain State which was the first to join the union after the Revolutionary War. It is prefaced ominously.
The following Phenomenon, happened within the circle of my acquaintance, and the truth of it is unquestionable; although it may appear incredible to many—an Omen which I conceive to forbode threatening and judgment on our land, by the great Ruler of Nations and Worlds, whose penetrating Eye views with impartiality, the most minute proceedings of his creatures, and will bring all nations under his government by the arm of his almighty Power.
The author is identified in the citation as Timothy P. Walker. He recounts being on a journey from Woodstock, Connecticut, to Burlington, Vermont. He puts up at an inn in Chelsea, Vermont, and spends the evening in somewhat disturbing conversation with some other gentlemen ruing the state of affairs of the country.
…with a mind burdened with these reflections, I retired to my lodging, at an early hour. Whether the conversation of the evening had a tendency to influence the vision of the night, I will not pretend to determine, but as no one ever paid less attention to the rambles of mopus than myself, I conceive there must be something evidently supernatural in the singular phenomenon I am about to relate.
After going to his sleep, he was awoken by “an uncommon gleam of light which induced me to leap from my bed, I looked out but nothing uncommon appeared, it being no other than an agreeable twilight night…” He saw a light “appear in the room, as though the moon in the height of its lustre [sic] had shone directly upon me…” He heard a voice which seemed not to be human call his name
and said arise and give ear to the messenger of Heaven, for you shall be witness of the signs which shall be given of the perilous days which are coming upon the earth, by reason of the innumerable sins and dissentions so prevalent among mankind especially in this favored land…
…After such a discourse. Which I conceived more than human, my readers may well think me a stranger to sleep the remainder of the night, for neither tongue nor pen can describe the agitation of my mind or trembling situation of my frame–I can truly say with Belshazer when he saw the finger writing on the wall, my knees smote one against the other; though I found myself more composed on mature deliberations, when I could not but consider myself as highly favored in being a bearer of the divine message.
Walker left the inn in the night and drove his team away. Soon he was confronted by a vision of an angel “with a Flaming Sword in his hand.” The angel shares a revelation which essentially promises that “the Jews and Gentiles shall coincide in sentiments and become one and indivisible, declaring Jesus Christ to be their only king and sovereign, and as he ended proclaimed, father, thy will be done, on earth as in Heaven, and may all people sat, Amen.”
Mr. Walker appears to have been obscured by time. His vision appears to have failed the test of time.
The memorial of the society of people of New-Lebanon, in the county of Columbia, and Watervliet, in the county of Albany, commonly called Shakers (1816)
Beginning in the late 18th century, the Shakers were one of the more successful progenitors of utopian communities in the country. This did not happen without controversy and prejudicial suspicion. This work, a memorial or petition to the legislature of the state of New York, begins:
WE, the members of a religious society, associated upon the principles of duty to God, and peace and good will to man, feeling ourselves greatly oppressed and aggrieved by the operation of the present militia laws of this state, respectfully submit to the consideration of the Legislature, our sentiments on this important subject, which so nearly affects our religious liberty, and rights of conscience.
There ensues a disquisition on the “duty of conscience” which is described as “a matter of special concern between a man and his Maker…”
…and in all free governments, it is acknowledged as a self-evident truth, that liberty of conscience is an unalienable right; consequently, no human authority has a right to claim any jurisdiction over the conscience, either to control or interfere with its sacred requirements, in any manner, or under any pretence [sic] whatever…
…We therefore come forward, with a confident reliance upon the liberal sentiments of this respectable body, to urge our conscientious objections to bearing arms, and to plead for an exemption from those acts which virtually operate against the free exercise and enjoyment of our rights.
Their argument is eloquently developed as evidenced by these excerpts:
According to the predictions of scripture, mankind are looking for a day of universal peace, when nations shall learn war no more. We believe this work is begun in this our day, and Christ has called us into this kingdom, wherein dwelleth righteousness, peace and good will to man; and he has impressed upon us that feeling in regard to our fellow creatures, that we can by no means injure them; even if we are smitten, we may not smite again; much less learn the arts of war, or shed human blood under any pretext whatever: indeed we should lose our own lives rather than take the lives of others…
We sincerely respect the government and those benign institutions established in this land, for the security of civil and religious liberty. The good and wholesome laws, established for the punishment of evil doers, are no terror to us; for those laws we have never violated; and we do give special heed to the voice of the rulers of our land, by peaceable obedience to all wholesome laws, and by cheerfully rendering every support to government that we are able to do, short of infringing upon our duty to God by the violation of our consciences. But this we cannot do; because we consider that no human authority can palliate nor take away the guilt caused by a breach of this divine law planted in the soul.
The entire memorial is measured but passionate. The issue is a recurring theme in this country’s history: religious liberty and conscience. The Shakers were a remarkable people whose history is compelling and poignant.
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