Page images
PDF
EPUB

the principle, and its utility, were denied by the United Colonies. They considered the lodging of such a power in the hands of men, whose interest it was to burden them, to ease themselves, by oppressing them, was neither just nor reasonable, and contrary to all found policy.

It was said that when the Romans sent out colonies they made them always as free as those at home, and never attempted to tax them more than other citizens : that they were always Romans, however far from Italy, had the same laws, immuni. ties, and privileges, that all other citizens posseffed, and that when Governors or Prefects attempted to oppress any province, they were severely punished by the fenate ; and that any Roman citizen in any part of the empire, who had proper qualifications like others, might become a senator, as well as those within Italy. But this was nor the case of the British colonists, who were not admitted to any share in the senatorial au. thority, except in a nominal fense, which was of no importance, without the sanction of a superior power. It was added, that the Romans behaved with much more respect to conquered nations than we did to natural subjects and born citizens ; for provided the nations whom the Romans fubdued inclined to become Romans, they were ruled by the same laws, and obtained the same privileges ; and were supported and defended by the laws of the empire, as if they had always belonged to it.

The British commissioners having a double authority, when their hopes of negociation failed, they were determined to push their military power with more vigour. It would appear, that men, when they act in the character of soldiers, consider moral obligation to be different from what it is when they act in other

characters.

.characters. The two commanders in chief had in the senate condemned the laws made against the Ameri. cans, but now they are employed to execute them at the expence of blood, and the danger of their own lives. The policy of nations and the ideas of persons in high life concerning justice and equity, are very often contrary to the fundamental maxims of morality which men would desire to have practised when applied to themselves.

The royal army was now divided from the island of New York by the East River, and the men were impatient to pass that narrow limit. They posted themselves along the coast wherever they could see or front their enemies, and erected batseries to answer, if not silence theirs. A fleet consisting of upwards of 300 fail, including transports, covered the face of the waters, while the ships of war hovering round the island threatened destruction to every part, and were continually engaged with one or other of the batteries, by which it was surrounded. The small islands between the opposite shore were perpetually objects of contest, until by the force of a well served artillery, the aid of the ships, and the intrepidity of the troops, they secured those that were most neceffary for their future operations.

Thus an almost constant cannonade was kept up for many days, and the troops who had so lately escaped from imminent danger, had little time to quiet their apprehensions. At length all things being prepared for a descent, several motions were made by the ships in the North River, with a design to draw the attention of the provincials to that side of the island. Other parts were also threatened, to encrease the uncertainty of the real object of attack, The seizing of the

island of Montresor near Hellgate, and erecting a battery on it to silence one which the provincials liad ar Florcn's Nook, had the appearance of landing in that part, which was near the centre of New York illand. Whilst the colonilts were in this state of fura pence and expectation, the first divisions of the army, under the command of Gen. Clinton, with Earl Cornwallis, Major-General Vaughan, Brigadier General Leslie, and the Hessian Colonel Dunop, embarked at the head of Newton-Bay, which runs deep into Long Illand, and where they were out of all view of the enemy. Covered by five ships of war upon their entrance into the river, they proceeded to Kep's bay, about three miles north of New York, where being less expected than in fome other places, the preparation for defence was not so great. The works were notwithstanding tolerably strong, and supported with men, but the fire from the ships was so severe and well directed, that the works were deferred, and the

army landed without opposition.

The provincials, who dreaded the fury of the men of war, abandoned New York, with their other posts on that part of the island, and retired to the North end, where their principal strength lay. They were obliged to leave a great part of their artillery and inilitary stores, which were considerable, behind. They had some men ilain, and a few raken prisoners in the retreat, and skirmishes which happened during their stay. - The King's troops fullered considerably, but this lofs was concealed as much as possible, and was never made public Ly government accounts. Many of the American regiments behaved badly on this occafion. Their late fevere lofles cn Long Isand appeared visible in their behaviour at this time.

Part

Part of the British army took poffeffion of New York, and the rest encamped near the centre of the island, with their right on Floren's Nook, on the East River, and the left near Bloomingdale, and thus occupied the island from shore to shore, which, though it is about fixteen miles in length, is not above one in breadth. It appeared from the beginning, that the provincials did not account the island and city of New York worth risking a general engagement, nor was it their plan, in general, to venture much at one time, but to exercise their troops in constant skirmishes, and waste the British forces by degrees.

General Washington took post at Kingsbridge, by which he had a commu. nication with the continent at New York, and where he erected strong works on both sides of the passage, which seemed to defy a strong force. Their nearest encampment was on the heights of Haerlem, at the distance of about a mile and an half. There was between them M-Gowan's pass, and the strong grounds called Morris's Heights lay between it and King-bridge, which were defensible against a very superior force. In this situation of the armies, skirmishes frequently happened, and it was found that by degrees the late apprehensions of the provincials began to wear away. This was the great object which General Washington. had in view; he knew that when his men once began to perceive that they could fight without being killed, and could occasionally beat those who had defeated them, they would, in process of time, become fitter for greater atteinpts, and conquer in their turn.

General Howe had not been many days in possession of New York, when that city was set on fire hy fome that had stayed behind, and concealed themselves for that purpose, being determined, if posible, to pre..

vent its being of any benefit to the conqueror. They had prepared combustibles with great art and ingenuity, and took the opportunity of dry weather and a brisk wind to set fire to the city about midnight, in several places at the same time. Thus near a third part of that beautiful city was reduced to ashes; and unless the activity of the troops, as well as of the sailors, had preserved the remainder, it had all been consumed, Some of those who were thought to have been concerned in kindling the flames, were thrown into the midst of them by the soldiers, and burnt to death ; though it could never yet be ascertained who were the real authors of this conflagration, nor were thę foldiers certain that those whom they threw into the flames had any hand in kindling of them. Those thaç know how little soldiers are given to enquire into the truth of a cause of this fort, will not wonder much at their burning the innocent as readily as the guilty.

General Howe finding that no attempt could be made with fuccess upon the side of New York, but that any attempt of that kind would be attended with the greatest danger, determined upon a new plan of operation, which would oblige the provincials either to quit their fituation, or render their holding it extremely dangerous. For this purpose, on the 11th of October the greater part of the army embarked in flat boats, and other finall vefsels, proper for the service, and paffed successfully through the dangerous narigatiön of Hell-gate, which forms a communication between the East River and the Sound, and landed on Frogfneck, near the town of East Chester, which lies on the continent belonging to New York, or the fide of Connecticut.

-Earl Percy, with two brigades of British troops and one of Hessians, continued in the

1

« PreviousContinue »