Memoirs of the Life of Samuel
Smith (Middleborough, MA, 1853)
THE APPEARANCE OF a slim, privately-printed pamphlet in
Samuel Smith gravestone, South
Middleborough, MA, photograph
by Michael J. Maddigan, April 25,
THE TEXT OF THE FOLLOWING MEMOIRS has been prepared from an original 1853 copy of Smith’s Memoirs in the collection of the Middleborough Historical Association. The small pamphlet measuring with an umber-colored paper cover is one of the few known copies to survive.
CHARLES I. BUSHNELL
I HAVE CONTEMPLATED for several years, placing before the American people, a few pages detailing some of the many incidents of my early life, my birth, parentage, and entrance into the army of the American Revolution, in 1776, &c., &c. Hoping that a recital of those labors, hardships, sufferings and trials may be kindly received by my fellow- countrymen, with a hearty response to the demand which I make upon them, namely : a perusal of these few pages, and the payment solicited for the same.
My mother died when I was about thirteen years old, and I was taken into the family of a friendly man, with whom I remained one year, receiving as a compensation for my work, necessary clothing and board. At the expiration of that time, I went to live with a bachelor, agreeing to stay three years, as at the former place, namely, for victuals and clothes. After being with him one and a half years, I was, like many foolish boys, enticed away by a stranger, and told by him that he would do better by me than the person with whom I then resided that he wished me to drive team, &c. In consequence of this flattery and deception, I ran away from the bachelor, and joined my new acquaintance.
In three weeks, however, I returned, and begged the privilege of staying, which was granted.
At the expiration of three years, I hired myself again to him one year, for necessary clothing and twelve dollars. The next year I was paid fifteen dollars and clothes; then my master relinquished house-keeping, and I was again destitute of a home. My parents being both dead, I was in a lonely condition, but was kindly cared for, and during a long illness which now prostrated me, carefully watched over by a widow, who was, indeed, to me like a “guardian angel.” She also read and explained to me many passages of Scripture, which I did not before understand, and could not read for myself.
Soon after I regained my strength, there was a call for soldiers to go to
About this time a small party of recruits were detached from the forces at
Soon after we joined the main army, Major Andre was brought into camp, and continued in the regiment till he was hung. From the
In this engagement they attempted several times to storm our fort, there being seven times as many Hessians as our number. They were, however, compelled to retreat. In this engagement we had one captain, one fife major, and five privates killed. Two of the privates were shot down, one on my right and the other on my left hand.
The night following the battle we were all on duty, either in scouting parties or on trails. It fell to my lot to go with a party on trail, and in going about half gun shot from the fort we found Count Dunop wounded and concealed behind a pine, attended by his two waiters. We took him and carried him into the fort. He lived but a short time and died of his wounds, having been shot through the knees with small grape-shot. The next day the whole regiment was employed, except those on guard and on scouting parties, in digging a trench and burying the dead. Here we buried between four and five hundred ; so many Hessians having fallen in the engagement.
Having buried the dead, we hung three spies one white man and two negroes. The white man confessed that he had taken pay of the British, (a tankard full of guineas,) for conducting Hessians to Red Bank.
Soon after this action the British shipping came up opposite a mud fort which we had built, and another action commenced. We succeeded, soon after the action commenced, in firing a red hot shot into one of their ships, the Roebuck, a ship of seventy-four guns, which connecting with her magazine, blew her up.
Sometime in November, 1776, we were obliged to leave Red Bank on account of the cold, and we marched to
We contended in this engagement nearly an hour, until in fact the British had nearly surrendered to us, when we were obliged to retreat a short distance on a height of ground and took shelter, first in an orchard and from thence we retreated to an oak grove. Here we had the advantage of them. Our captain now ordered every man to shelter himself by standing behind a tree. In this engagement there was not a man on the American side killed or wounded except one captain, who received a shot through the left arm ; a flesh wound. The next day after the battle, we were employed in burying the dead in the burying ground, and conveying the wounded to the hospital. I was selected with others to go to the hospital and attend the wounded. Much of my time while there was employed in attending and waiting on the doctor, having the care of his box of instruments. While there I saw a great many legs and arms cut off. I was continued in this occupation at the hospital, until the spring of It 78, when I joined my regiment again.
While I was at the hospital I was under the command of the doctor, and I waited on him until he left the army, which was in the fall of the year 1778. The name of the doctor was Elias Cornelius.
I believe him to have been a Christian, as he regularly attended meetings on Sundays, He was a Baptist by profession. When he went to church he always took me with him, as he wished me well. He also instructed me in the ways of righteousness. When he left the army I lost the company of my best friend. He returned from
Nothing material occurred until the next June, when the battle of Monmouth was fought. The day on which this battle was fought, was the hottest, I think, that I ever experienced. In fact, the heat was so excessive that I could not tell by which the most died, whether by the heat or the balls.
In two days after this hot battle, the brigade was ordered to march to
We drove the British completely from the fort, dismounted and spiked their cannon, and then hastened to the boats which were waiting for us, and retreated from the
Soon after, the drafted men were discharged, and we marched to
In the course of the winter of 1778, many of the regiment to which I belonged were taken to go on ship board, to run down the river to attack and take the British shipping which lay there. The ship that I went on board of had two cannons Our orders were to run along side of the British shipping, board, and take them.
I believe it was a happy incident to us that our captain run the ship aground on Pawtucket Flats, for thus ended this expedition. We then returned to our barracks at
Our payment for services being unnecessarily detained, we all agreed to have a letter formed, setting forth our grievances, and sent to our General. The letter was made and handed to the Colonel to forward to the General, The Colonel refused to have the letter sent, and took the bearer of it and sent him in irons to jail, He then had him tried by a Court Martial, and sentenced to be hung in rive days. Three days after the sentence, all attended as usual at the calling of the roll. After the roll was called we were dismissed for the day. When the officers had retired, we agreed upon our plan to liberate the prisoner. Every soldier fixed his bayonet on his gun for the purpose of rescuing the brother soldier who was condemned to be hung. The drums beat the long roll as a signal. Every soldier was on parade, with his gun loaded and his bayonet affixed, We were determined to rescue the prisoner, who was innocent of any crime on behalf of his fellow soldiers. We were determined to a man to lose our lives or rescue our brother.
There were but two officers in the regiment who would allow soldiers to converse with our head commander, for the purpose of settling questions in dispute. On we marched, agreed that fifteen only should be allowed to settle the affair. Meeting General Sullivan, he ordered us to halt, but we marched steadily on. Our old Major, whom we always and at all times authorized to speak to our Commander to settle questions and restore peace, rode in front of our ranks and wished us to halt, as Gen. Sullivan came to settle the disorder and to restore peace.
We agreed to halt on condition that the officers should get in front, under the muzzles of our guns. These conditions were quickly complied with. The first request of the General was for us to lay down our arms. He said he could not converse with soldiers under arms. We positively refused to accede to his request, and we all stood with our guns to our shoulders, loaded and bayonets affixed.
The above took place in the road on a low piece of land. A small island was opposite the place where we halted. The General wanted us to march on the island. We complied with his request. When we had marched on the island, he wanted we should stack our arms. Our leader told the General that our arms would remain in each man’s hands until the treaty which we demanded was agreed upon. The General said he could not agree with soldiers upon anything while they were under arms. Then our leader told him he should march for the condemned man. The General told him that he had one black regiment in the fort, which we had to pass, who would cut us to pieces. The answer from our leader was: “We do not fear you, with all your black boys ! The prisoner we will have, at the risk of our lives!”
The General then agreed that if we would march back, under order to our former officers, he would send the prisoner to the camp. This our leader refused to do, telling the General that he had marched his men there on conditions, and that he would march them back again if he would immediately deliver up the prisoner, and pledge his honor that there should be no one confined or tried in Court Martial for the same offence. It was apparently hard for the General to agree to it, but at last he complied with the terms and sent an officer for the prisoner, who was soon brought and delivered to us.
We then marched to our old encampment with our comrade in the centre, and colors flying in his hands, and resigned ourselves to our old officers.
We remained in our encampment until the British evacuated
The first march we made was to
The next march we made was to
Two nights after the storming of the fortifications, the British undertook to retake them, and mustering out a small party calling themselves Americans, came up in the rear of us. They entered the fort with but little difficulty, as there were but few of us in it, and very quickly those who were not instantly killed or taken, were driven out of it.
Four days from that time Lord Cornwallis surrendered, and in three days from the time Cornwallis surrendered, the British marched out on the plains, and stacked their arms and resigned and surrendered themselves prisoners of war, and each marched into town again. The Americans followed them. In three weeks from the time the British surrendered, we took their shipping.
Forty of the prisoners we took from their ships had a disorder with which our doctor was not acquainted. Its appearance was sudden. Some would fall down on the deck and froth like a mad dog ; others would begin to draw their heads down till their heels and head would touch together. An American of my acquaintance, who, to my certain knowledge, had been exposed repeatedly to the small pox for six years, caught it on board the British shipping and died.
In the winter, after the lakes had frozen up, we went to storm a fort on the frontier. Our army was conveyed in stages. In crossing
We passed over across the
I was selected to drive the Colonel’s baggage to
I then shipped on board a brig, which was bound to the coast of
The voyage was long and tedious, as the captain chartered his brig to a merchant in
After we got to sea, we were very scant of provisions, calculating to obtain supplies at
We staid in port about two weeks till the merchant had taken his cargo, and then sailed for
We cleared from
We staid in port two weeks, loaded with cotton and sugar, and cleared for
We had a moderate breeze on our passage home till we made
Having discharged the cargo, I called for my pay, which was six dollars a month, and the captain offered me a kind of paper currency which the State had issued as a cheat. I refused this currency. He declared I should take that or nothing. I lost my wages.
Next day I visited a brother, five miles in the country, whom I found ploughing, it being a very warm time in the spring of 1786.
Smith was born in Smithfield, Rhode Island, the son of Benjamin and Abigail (Walling) Smith who were married at Smithfield, November 13, 1752, by William Arnold, Justice. The couple appears to have had but three children: Chloe born June 2, 1754; Enos born March 20, 1757; and Samuel born June 13, 1759. Smith describes his parents as "humble", perhaps a euphemism for poor. Following his mother's death about 1772, Smith appears to have been "bound out", a common practice by those unable to support family members. Smith replaced another soldier, a common practice through the mid-nineteenth century when drafted men could pay money to another to replace them. It is likely that Smith joined the Second Rhode Island Regiment which was formed at this time.
Major John André
Major John André was a British spy hung
Battle of Springfield, Pennsylvania
This battle did not take place until June 23, 1780 - another anachronism in Smith's memoirs.
Battle of Red Bank, Delaware River south of Philadelphia, October-November, 1777
Following the occupation of Philadelphia, the British sought to secure control of the Delaware River without which their control of the city would remain untenable. Recognizing this, the Americans moved to block the river below the city. An anonymous British diarist from the time recorded that "the rebels have endeavoured with vast labour and expense to stop up the navigation of the Delaware River by sinking several ranges of a kind of cheavaux de fries across the channel, to prevent our fleet from getting up to the city." The obstructions were placed between Red Bank on the New Jersey shore where the Continentals had established a rudimentary fort known as Fort Mercer, and an island in the river upon which the somewhat more substantial For Mifflin was raised. In an effort to reduce Fort Mercer, British General Howe despatched a force of 2,000 Hessian troops under General Count Carl Emil Kurt von Donop. On October 22, 1777, Americans led by Christopher Greene of Rhode Island repulsed the Hessian troops. Sources vary as to the number killed from 200 to 600, including von Donop. Smith's Memoirs clearly indicate the higher number. Though not of great strategic importance (Fort Mercer was later abandoned when the British made it untenable following their taking of Fort Mifflin), it was of tremendous emotional import for the Continental troops.
"We hung three spies"
Two spies were hanged November 1, 1777, for having conducted the Hessians to Red Bank.
Sinking of the Augusta
In his Memoirs, Smith clearly confuses the 64-gun warship Augusta with the smaller 44-gun Roebuck. As part of the effort to secure the Delaware, a force of British war vessels was brought to bear in the attack upon Forts Mercer and Mifflin, as noted by Smith. The 64-gun Augusta, 44-gun Roebuck, 18-gun sloop of war Merlin, frigates Liverpool and Pearl and a galley ship sought to force their way upriver with the incoming tide. The Pearl's log recorded that the fleet "work'd up the River in order to engage the Rebel Vessels and prevent their firing on our Troops, who appear'd to be much gall'd from the Enemies Shipping; 1/2 past 5 the Rebel Galleys &c. began firing n us, which was return'd by the Roebuck, Augusta & Cornwallis Galley." Unfortunately for the British, both the Augusta and Merlin ran aground on shoaling sands on October 23 off Fort Mifflin, following which Augusta caught fire. Though the British frantically tried to salvage the burning ship, it ultimately had to be abandoned. The fire ignited its magazine which exploded and destroyed the Augusta, the largest Royal Navy warship lost in the entire Revolution. The survivors were taken aboard the remaining ships, including the Roebuck.
"Sometime in November we were obliged to leave Red Bank"
Fort Mercer was evacuated in mid-November 1777, following the British capture of Fort Mifflin.
Though Smith's narrative contains little detail, it clearly indicates the suffering experienced at Valley Forge where it is estimated some 2,000 died during the course of the winter of 1777-78, with Smith himself falling ill. Food and clothing were both scarce, and Washington was moved o write "that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place ... this Army must inevitably ... starve, dissolve, or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can."
"We remained at Valley Forge until sometime in June"
Fearing a French blockade, the British forces under General Clinton withdrew from Philadelphia. Learning of this, Washington moved to intercept Clinton, and the Continental Army moved out from Valley Forge June 19, 1778, upon receiving news that Philadelphia had been abandoned by the British.
Elias Cornelius (1758-1823)
Though of a Loyalist family, Cornelius enlisted January 1, 1777, and because of some medical background, he served as a surgeon's mate in the 2d Rhode Island regiment under General Israel Angell. Cornelius, like Smith, served at Red Bank, but was captured before the army entered winter encampment at Valley Forge. Cornelius escaped on January 7, 1778, and rejoined his regiment at Valley Forge. Cornelius later wrote reminiscences entitled Journal of Dr. Elias Cornelius, A Revolutionary Surgeon: Graphic Description of his Suffering while a Prisoner in Provost jail, New York, 1777 and 1778.
The Battle of Monmouth (New Jersey), June 28, 1778
The battle was fought between Washington and the main body of the Continental Army which moved eastward from Pennsylvania to attack the rear of the retreating British army led by Sir Henry Clinton as it departed Freehold, New Jersey, with the purpose of reaching Sandy Hook and embarkation for New York. The British were evacuating Philadelphia and New Jersey as untenable, fearing that French naval forces might cut their supply lines. General Charles Lee was the first to attack the rear of the British force, but retreated when the British turned to repulse the attack. Both sides claimed victory. While the British achieved their aim of evacuating their army intact from New Jersey, the Americans could claim that they had forced the evacuation of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The battle which was marked by excessive heat is today perhaps best remembered for the presence of Mary Hays (Molly Pitcher). The American satisfaction over the outcome of Monmouth was marred, however, by subsequent wrangling over Lee's actions. Lee demanded to be court martialled in the belief that such a body would exonerate him of charges of insubordination. It did not. He was found guilty, a verdict later upheld by Congress, and allegations of treason would continue to dog him. Another Middleborough soldier, Captain Joshua Eddy is said to have been witness to Washington's castigation of Lee.
The Battle of Rhode Island
A force was despatched under General John Sullivan to move northward into Rhode Island and join with French naval forced for an attack upon Newport. Before it could reach the city, the American force clashed with the British at the northern end of Aquidneck Island. Continental forces performed a tactical withdrawal to a line which ranged across the island just south of Butt's Hill in preparation for an invasion force of 100 British vessels encouraged by the departure of d'Estaing's fleet for repairs in Boston. The storm which Smith mentions occurred on August 11 and 12, and laid flat cornfields and hayfields over the course of the two days. On the evening of August 30-31, the British permitted the American forces to withdraw by boat to Tiverton and Bristol. Following the battle, the regular troops rejoined Washington and a small force was retained at Fort Barton in Tiverton.
Undoubtedly a reference to the 1st Rhode Island, a nearly all African-American regiment. The 2d Rhode Island also included black troops. Rhode Island, along with Massachusetts, emancipated slaves willing to serve as soldiers, paying compensation to their owners for the loss of their "property".
October 25, 1779
The date the British finally evacuated Newport, Rhode Island