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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

Wild British Officers in America

By Alexander Graydon (1752–1818)

[Born in Bristol, Penn., 1752. Died in Philadelphia, Penn., 1818. Memoirs of a Life Chiefly Passed in Pennsylvania. 1811.]

BUT it was not alone by hostile alarms, that the good people of Philadelphia were annoyed. Their tranquillity had been likewise disturbed by the uncitizenlike conduct of a pair of British officers, who, for want of something better to do, had plunged themselves into an excess of intemperance; and in the plenitude of wine and hilarity, paraded the streets at all hours,
  • A la clarté de cieux dans l’ombre de la nuit,
  • to the no small terror of the sober and the timid. The firm of this duumvirate was Ogle and Friend, names always coupled together, like those of Castor and Pollux, or of Pylades and Orestes. But the cement which connected them was scarcely so pure as that which had united those heroes of antiquity. It could hardly be called friendship, but was rather a confederacy in debauchery and riot, exemplified in a never-ending round of frolic and fun. It was related of Ogle, that upon hiring a servant he had stipulated with him that he should never get drunk but when his master was sober. But the fellow some time after requested his discharge, giving for his reason, that he had in truth no dislike to a social glass himself, but it had so happened, that the terms of the agreement had absolutely cut him off from any chance of ever indulging his propensity.

    Many are the pranks I have heard ascribed, either conjointly or separately, to this par nobile fratrum. That of Ogle’s first appearance in Philadelphia has been thus related to me by Mr. Will Richards, the apothecary, who, it is well known, was, from his size and manner, as fine a figure for Falstaff as the imagination can conceive. “One afternoon,” said he, “an officer in full regimentals, booted and spurred, with a whip in his hand, spattered with mud from top to toe, and reeling under the effects of an overdose of liquor, made his entrance into the coffee-house, in a box of which I was sitting perusing a newspaper. He was probably under the impression that every man he was to meet would be a Quaker, and that a Quaker was no other than a licensed Simon Pure for his amusement: for no sooner had he entered, than throwing his arms about the neck of Mr. Joshua Fisher, with the exclamation of—‘Ah, my dear Broadbrim, give me a kiss,’ he began to slaver him most lovingly. As Joshua was a good deal embarrassed by the salutation, and wholly unable to parry the assault or shake off the fond intruder, I interfered in his behalf and effected a separation, when Ogle, turning to me, cried out, ‘Ha! my jolly fellow, give me a smack of your fat chops,’ and immediately fell to hugging and kissing me, as he had done Fisher. But instead of the coyness he had shown, I hugged and kissed in my turn as hard as I was able, until my weight at length brought Ogle to the floor and myself on top of him. Nevertheless, I kept kissing away, until nearly mashed and suffocated, he exclaimed, ‘for heaven’s sake let me up, let me up, or you will smother me!’ Having sufficiently tormented him and avenged Joshua Fisher, I permitted him to rise, when he seemed a good deal sobered, and finding that I was neither a Quaker nor wholly ignorant of the world, he evinced some respect for me, took a seat with me in a box, and, entering into conversation, soon discovered that, however he might be disguised by intoxication, he well knew what belonged to the character of a gentleman.” “This,” said Richards, “was the commencement of an acquaintance between us; and Captain Ogle sometimes called to see me, upon which occasions he always behaved with the utmost propriety and decorum.”

    This same coffee-house, the only one indeed in the city, was also the scene of another affray by Ogle and Friend in conjunction. I know not what particular acts of mischief they had been guilty of, but they were very drunk, and their conduct so extremely disquieting and insulting to the peaceable citizens there assembled, that being no longer able to endure it, it was judged expedient to commit them; and Mr. Chew, happening to be there, undertook, in virtue probably of his office of recorder, to write their commitment. But Ogle, facetiously jogging his elbow, and interrupting him with a repetition of the pitiful interjection of “Ah now, Mr. Chew!” he was driven from his gravity, and obliged to throw away the pen. It was then taken up by Alderman M——n with a determination to go through with the business, when the culprits reeling round him, and Ogle, in particular, hanging over his shoulder and reading after him as he wrote, at length with irresistible effect hit upon an unfortunate oversight of the alderman. “Ay,” says he, “my father was a justice of peace too, but he did not spell that word as you do. I remember perfectly well, that instead of an s he always used to spell circumstance with a c.” This sarcastic thrust at the scribe entirely turned the tide in favor of the rioters; and the company being disarmed of their resentment, the alderman had no disposition to provoke further criticism by going on with the mittimus.

    The irregularities of these gay rakes were not more eccentric than diversified; and the more extravagant they could render them, the better. At one time they would drive full tilt through the streets in a chair; and upon one of these occasions, on approaching a boom which had been thrown across the street, in a part that was undergoing the operation of paving, they lashed forward their steed, and sousing against the spar with great violence, they were consequently hurled from their seats, like Don Quixote in his temerarious assault of the windmills. At another time, at Doctor Orme’s, the apothecary, where Ogle lodged, they, in emulation of the same mad hero at the puppet show, laid about them with their canes upon the defenceless bottles and phials, at the same time assaulting a diminutive Maryland parson, whom, in their frolic, they kicked from the street door to the kitchen. He was a fellow lodger of Ogle’s; and, to make him some amends for the roughness of this usage, they shortly after took him drunk to the dancing assembly, where, through the instrumentality of this unworthy son of the Church, they contrived to excite a notable hubbub. Though they had escaped, as already mentioned, at the coffee-house, yet their repeated malfeasances had brought them within the notice of the civil authority; and they had more than once been in the clutches of the mayor of the city. This was Mr. S——, a small man of a squat, bandy-legged figure; and hence, by way of being revenged on him, they bribed a negro with a precisely similar pair of legs, to carry him a billet, which imported, that as the bearer had in vain searched the town for a pair of hose that might fit him, he now applied to his honor to be informed where he purchased his stockings.

    I have been told that General Lee, when a captain in the British service, had got involved in this vortex of dissipation; and, although afterward so strenuous an advocate for the civil rights of the Americans, had been made to smart severely for their violation, by the mayor’s court of Philadelphia.

    The common observation, that when men become soldiers they lose the character and feelings of citizens, was amply illustrated by the general conduct of the British officers in America. Their studied contempt of the mohairs, by which term all those who were not in uniform were distinguished, was manifest on all occasions: and it is by no means improbable that the disgust then excited, might have more easily ripened into that harvest of discontent which subsequent injuries called forth, and which terminated in a subduction of allegiance from the parent land.