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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

How the British Troops Protected the Loyalists

By Thomas Jones (1731–1792)

[From History of New York. First published from the MS., edited by E. F. de Lancey, 1879.]

SAMUEL PINTARD, Esq., a native of New York, of an opulent and reputable family, at the commencement of the war in 1755, obtained a pair of colors in Shirley’s regiment. Upon the reduction of Oswego, in 1756, he was taken prisoner, and sent with the rest of the garrison to England, where he obtained a Lieutenancy, and went with his regiment to Germany, where he signalized himself as a brave and gallant officer in several actions. At Minden, he was desperately wounded, and lay twelve hours upon the field of battle before it was discovered he was alive. He recovered from his wounds and served the remainder of the war with honor to himself, and credit to his corps. Upon the conclusion of the war, the regiment was disbanded, upon which Mr. Pintard returned to New York, where he had a good estate, wealthy relations, and worthy connections. In a few years afterward, he married a young lady of character, and fortune, and being fond of a domestic and retired life, was enjoying himself upon a small country-seat at a delightful little village in the county of Westchester, called New Rochelle, situate upon the Sound, when the royal army landed upon Long Island. The county of Westchester being then covered with rebel troops, there was no possibility of his joining the British troops, or getting to Long Island, the whole coast being covered with rebel forces. As soon as General Howe landed upon Pell’s Neck, in the vicinity of New Rochelle, Mr. Pintard clothed himself in his regimentals, put on his sword, and with his firelock upon his shoulder, joined the army, and served as a volunteer during its stay in that county. I am now sorry to relate a fact, so far beneath the dignity, the honor, the spirit, the virtue, and so degrading to the character of Englishmen, that I wish (from my soul I wish) a veil could be drawn over the felonious act, and the whole transaction hid in impenetrable darkness. But it is a fact, and a fact that can be fully proved. It shall therefore be exposed to the view of the public. While Mr. Pintard was acting as a volunteer in the royal army, serving as a guide, and risking his life in the field, and in all the dangers incident to war; at this very time, I aver it as a fact, his house and farm were plundered of their most valuable effects by a party of that army in which he was exposing his life as a Loyalist, a volunteer, a conductor, and a guide. His household furniture was taken from him, he was robbed of his plate, they stole his horses, and they killed his cattle, hogs, and sheep, and carried off his poultry. When General Howe abandoned the county of Westchester, and returned to New York, Pintard was obliged to remove also. He had acted in the British army. This was well known to the rebels. It was dangerous staying behind. He might have been hanged, or at least, imprisoned during the war. He took the prudent part and went to New York with the army. He complained to the General of the robbery. He obtained no redress. Finding living in New York extravagant, and being fond of retirement, he purchased a genteel snug house, and neat little farm, at Hempstead, in Queens county, upon Long Island, a most delightful village about twenty miles from New York, to which with his family he retired, in expectation of living there unmolested, and in peace and quietness.

In this retreat he had not been long, before the 17th Regiment of Light Dragoons took up their quarters in the town. These gentry soon became very troublesome. They were expert at plunder, and being encouraged by Colonel Birch, their commanding officer, nothing escaped their hands, and in the course of six weeks not a lamb, nor a calf, a duck, nor a goose, a turkey, a pig, nor a dunghill fowl, was to be seen in the town; nor a potato, a turnip, nor a cabbage, in the fields. Mr. Pintard, tired with this disagreeable scene, removed his furniture to the Rev. Mr. Cutting’s—a relation of his, and the parson of the parish—locked up his house, removed to New York, and embarked for Madeira, where he had relations of property, fully determined not to return to New York till the end of the war. Pintard being gone, the house and farm unoccupied, and Birch commanding at Hempstead, he soon fixed his eyes upon this place. How to get the possession was the difficulty. The house was locked up, the key was gone. Birch was not to be balked with small difficulties. He contrived to force open one of the windows, and creeping through, opened the doors, and took possession. This title was at best but a precarious one, a better was to be procured. Birch goes to New York, represents Pintard as a rebel, charges him with being in the service of Congress, and gone as an agent of theirs to Madeira, and applies for the house and farm as the property of a rebel. General Clinton never inquires into the truth of the matter, believes Birch, and gives him an order to take possession of the place, and hold it as rebel property for his own benefit and emolument Birch had now a double title, a title obtained by a forcible entry, and that entry confirmed by an illegal, arbitrary order of the Commander-in-Chief. Birch being thus established in the possession, sent his compliments to Mr. Cutting and begged the use of Mr. Pintard’s furniture, for a few days, until his own could be brought from New York. Mr. Cutting, not willing to disoblige so powerful a neighbor, acquiesced and delivered up the furniture, which the Colonel afterward refused to return, claiming it as rebel property.

Mr. Pintard, after his purchase, erected the frame of a large barn, including stables and a coach-house, but had not laid the floors, boarded the sides, nor shingled the roof. It was, therefore, of no use to Birch. Where to get shingles and boards was the question. He made the proper inquiries and found that a Mr. Hulet, who lived about five miles off, had a quantity of boards and shingles laid in for building a house, which he had deferred on account of the times. This information gained, a number of wagons escorted by a party of horse were sent, and the materials brought away without leave or license, and the barn completed. Mr. Hulet, a noted Loyalist, applied for payment. He got none, was called a rebel, threatened with the provost, and turned out of doors. This was the situation of his Majesty’s loyal subjects within the British lines during the war. Deprived of their property at the caprice of the military, their lives and liberty under the same arbitrary power, law, justice, and equity denied them, the civil authority abolished, and the courts of justice shut up. Such were the steps taken by the military to “conciliate” the affections of his Majesty’s deluded subjects, to “reclaim” the disaffected, and “bring in” the rebellious.

Birch, thus settled to his wish at Hempstead, cast his eyes upon a small building in the town called “The Cage,” erected by the inhabitants to confine persons convicted of drunkenness, swearing, and petty larcenies, of which the Justices of the Peace had cognizance. This “Cage” the Colonel thought would do for a washhouse; he accordingly sent a messenger to Samuel Clowes, a Justice of the Peace who lived in the town, a gentleman of strict honor, great integrity, and unbounded loyalty, for permission to take it away. The Justice told him it belonged to the town, and he could give no consent, without the approbation of the inhabitants, signified by a vote at a general town meeting. The messenger replied that Birch would have been glad of the Justice’s consent, but whether he had it or not was very immaterial, “for the Cage he would have.” He accordingly ordered it removed, fitted it up, and instead of its original use, converted it into a wash-house.

In the summer of 1779, the 17th Light Dragoons, of which Birch was the commander, were again in quarters at Hempstead. Three privates of the regiment committed a burglary (a crime of which, I am told, the civil law ousts the criminal of his clergy), by breaking open a dwelling-house in the night, and plundering it of several valuable effects. The family at length being awakened by the noise of the robbers, a skirmish ensued, and one of the soldiers was killed, the others escaped. But being known, and sworn to, by the person robbed, they were taken up and committed by the General. Civil law there was none, but as if bent upon not punishing, or even trying, a soldier for a capital theft committed upon a loyal American, a sworn and steady subject of his Sovereign, and perhaps to insult and show the little regard he had for the country and its inhabitants, he discharged the criminals without the shadow of a trial. The dead man, however, was fairly tried, condemned, and sentenced to be hanged in chains. The sentence, I suppose, was confirmed by the Commander-in-Chief, as it was actually and really put in execution, Birch at the same time insultingly telling the country people to take notice, that the military had, in this case at least, done exemplary justice for a robbery committed by a soldier upon an inhabitant, and desired in future to be troubled with no further complaints.

In 1779, Birch sent a party to Secatogue, a village about twenty miles to the eastward of Hempstead, to pull down a Quaker meeting-house and bring away the materials. This was done, and the whole appropriated by Birch to his own use. The party, on their return, stopped at a house then belonging to Thomas Jones, Esq., at Fort Neck, called the refugee house, from his permitting several of these poor loyal people to live in it. As they were all men, they maintained, supported, and diverted themselves by fishing and fowling. The dragoons very deliberately entered the house, pillaged it of the little furniture the poor loyal wretches had, took out all the sash windows, and carried the whole off with the rest of their plunder. Mr. Jones getting full evidence of this black transaction, wrote several letters to the Colonel upon the subject, but never received an answer. He also called a number of times at his house, but never was let in. As Hempstead was Mr. Jones’s parish church, he had every Sunday the mortification to see the windows of his house fixed in a barn, which Birch had converted into a barrack. Mr. Jones was noted for his loyalty.

The same year he had the Presbyterian meeting-house at Foster’s Meadow pulled down, the materials brought away, and converted to his own use. This village is about four miles to the westward of Hempstead. This sacred edifice was built by the villagers for the sake of divine worship. Every inhabitant in the place was remarkably loyal. A minister who had, prior to the rebellion, occasionally preached in it, was a rebel. This Birch made a pretence for robbing the loyal inhabitants of their church.

Another anecdote of this gentleman shall be mentioned, and I have done with him. A few weeks before the evacuation of New York, the Colonel sent out a party upon Hempstead Plains, an extensive common of sixteen miles in length, and six in width, belonging to the towns of Oyster Bay and Hempstead, and drove in about 2,000 sheep. He ordered them into a field, and had all their ears cut off. This done, he gave notice to the farmers to come in, prove their property, and each man to take away his own; that he had taken this step for their interest, and to prevent their sheep falling into the hands of the rebels. The farmers were pleased, looked upon it as an act of kindness, and flocked into the town. Birch showed them the sheep, and desired each man to select his own, but if any one took a sheep which he could not swear to, or prove to be his property, he should be severely punished. All the cattle and sheep in Hempstead and Oyster Bay were marked in the ears, and nowhere else. Every farmer has a mark of his own, and each mark is upon the records of the town. Birch having taken the ears off of the sheep, not a single man was able to prove his property. Birch, therefore, sold the sheep, and by this piece of wickedness pocketed above two thousand pounds.