Generous Enemies Patriots and Loyalists in Revolutionary New York

Generous Enemies Patriots and Loyalists in Revolutionary New York by Judith L. Van Buskirk proved family ties existed and stronger than loyalty to a cause.  The personal stories helped illustrate family and friend importance during the siege of New York.  The bond to family or friend surpassed the political concerns of the Patriots or Loyalist, which lead to seeing family or friend in enemy’s territory.  Women crossed enemy territory to see love ones, the enemy allowing the women to visit. The women gathered important information while visiting their love ones. Honor for high-ranking office proved that both sides honored a code of war started in Europe.

Officers appeared to benefit from the gentleman’s “rule of war.”  The captured officer gave his word of honor not to escape, he could move around the city until exchanged (on parole).   He could move back and forth between enemy and friendly territories as long as he returned.  Both sides granted this privilege to the opposing officers. (74) Officers when captured held a better change to receive special privileges with only his word, a different time.

Enlisted men faced a different story.  Their word of honor did not count.  The enlisted men withstood incarceration in prison ships, sugar houses, etc and received no special privileges.   Treatment of the Patriot incarcerated soldier or sailor endured filth and misery especially in Rhinelansder’s Sugar House or the ship Jersey. (74) Rank and honor proved an advantage for the rich while the poor usually the enlisted soldier held no special place in this hierarchy.

An exception to this code concerns John Andre, Adjutant General in the British army.  John Andre appeared in civilian clothing and behind enemy lines when captured.  The rules of war, he displayed no honor and considered a spy.  George Washington ordered John Andre executed.  George Washington allowed Andre’s servant to care for him until his execution.  Andre requested a firing squad.  Washington denies Andre’s request instead Andre faced the hangman’s noose. (101) Washington’s actions in this case proved with rank Andre still faced the consequence of spying.  Washington granted Andre his servant and food from Washington’s table still proving that officers acquired better treatment than the enlisted soldiers in prison.

Women presented a unique problem for both sides.  Men did not believe women capable of spying and passing the information to the other side.  “That women were nonentities in the political sphere made it possible to laud women attached to male enemies in the public print.” (63) Upper class ladies enjoyed gallantly from the other side.  When visiting with their love ones, the ladies did not go through any kind of search.  General Howe (British) allowed letters unopened from wives to the Patriot officers.  He did not realize the information the women wrote to their love ones.  Men believed women did not hold “a series political belief, nor endowed with the power to act on it, encouraged men to talk freely with the ladies.” (55) New Jersey governor William Livingston questioned why so many women easily went across enemy lines without proper clearance and back.  He appealed to George Washington about his concerns, “Certain it is, that the greatest politician on Record, I mean the Devil, apply himself to a female Agent to involve mankind in Sin and ruin.” (64) Women played a bigger part in the siege by gather intelligence and passing it on to the opposing side, a better job than John Andre or Nathan Hale.  Amazing, the weak women could outsmart an 18th century man.  Livingston suspicions proved correct but to no avail.

Not all participates of the Revolution War remained loyal to their side.  Some changed sides during the conflict.  Some stated; “they found that the most intrusive force in their daily lives was not the enemy but their own army and government.” (22) An example, during the occupation of New York many loyalists found themselves lodging Red Coat soldiers in their homes without compensations.  Other times “unruly soldiers invaded New Yorkers’ home to take articles they wanted.” (23) Shortages presented another problem in which the people in New York depended on friends or relatives on the other side, at times changing alliances.   Businessmen took this opportunity to gain trade and make a profit.  He did not care which side purchased his goods.  His goal concerned profit and which side paid better.

Slaves learned their situation held a possible advantage when the British offered the slave freedom.  Unbeknownst to them the slave, their purpose in this conflict appeared a pawn in a giant chess game.  The Loyalist offered the slave freedom if he ran away from the Patriots.  “All Negroes that fly from the Enemy’s Country are Free—No person whatever can claim a Right to them…” (135) After the slave entered New York, he did not gain his freedom.  “A refuge could…successfully crossing the lines only to be claimed as a slave by a white Loyalist in New York.” (141) When the British searched for volunteers, many times the refugee faced impressments to serve in the military.  Another situation concerned the refugee’s home, the military confiscate the home and he possessed no options but give up his home. (141)

Bond to family held a stronger tie than loyalty to a cause.  Shortage brought help from relatives from the other side.  Women possessed a talent to spy even in the same room of the enemy.  Women knew this and took advantage by relaying messages to the prisoner as well as the other side.  Slaves hoping to acquire freedom ran away to find themselves in a similar situation or worse.  Honor among officers and officer prisoners appeared odd but used during this time.  Soldiers on the other hand suffered the most while imprison, (a class difference).  Businessmen took advantage of the war to make a profit.   Van Buskirk illustrated during the Revolutionary War the enemies appeared to have more in common.

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