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Pond to the southward of Fogland's Ferry, whence we were to embark, the enemy fired upon us as we passed the Ferry Point, by which we had one man killed and another wounded. Yesterday in the afternoon, and this morning, the enemy appear as if they intended to evacuate the north end of the island, but the rain prevents our making such discoveries as we could wish. If they are moving off, as I believe they are, I think we shall go on at Howland's Ferry and one other place, and beat up their quarters.
Last night an express arrived rom Gov. Cook to Gen. Spencer, with the great news of Gen. Burgoyne and his army; about four thousand five hundred having surrendered to Gen. Gates—the British and Hessian officers, to be allowed to wear side arms; but no terms for the tories.
I hope that our Court will never more join in such an important enterprise, unless they have better assurance of every thing being ready against the given day. We ought to have been in the plan and preparation. Though I do not expect to be saved by our own wisdom, in the present or any future expedition, yet I think we ought to have something to do with planning and preparing, as well as executing. If the weather permits, it is probable we shall be successful, through the goodness of Providence; but I am sure we shall have very little reason to boast of our own wisdom. I am, dear sir, with great respect, your most humble servant,
mon and ordinary general council, I have determined to do it under my hand, so that if I am wrong it may appear against me. The general idea upon which this enterprise was planned, was founded upon the supposition of eight or nine thousand men being necessary to do the business when conducted with secrecy and the enemy attacked by surprise. I believe that our numbers are not equal to what was then thought necessary; and it is certain that we can not now surprise the enemy; for they know the secret and are preparing against our design. Besides the spirit of the army is not what it was at first. From these facts I think we ought now to reason, and if the public weal requires us to push on at all events, then let us do it in the most desperate manner; but if the public good forbids our running any such risks, then let us return in an orderly way, and take care of our boats, &c. against a more favorable time. If eight thousand men were necessary, with secrecy and surprise in aid of their numbers, surely no wise man will say that a greater number are not necessary, when we have neither secrecy nor surprise to assist our numbers. Other reasons might be offered against making the attempt under present circumstances, but every man who reasons justly will reflect upon the consequences of a defeat, and will consider it possible. The consequences may be such as we may be utterly unable to answer for. Now is the time for cool deliberation, and we ought to deliberàte so as to justify our conduct to our country. I am very sensible of the coloring which will be given to this way of reasoning, and shall presume that no man will impute it to any other than pure love to the common cause —love to our country.
From you, gentlemen, I may reasonably expect that candor, which every gentleman has a right to expect from every other. In full assurance of which, I beg leave to subscribe myself, with sentiments of great esteem, your most humble servant, J. PALMER.
The failure of this expedition to Rhode Island, was a sore disappointment to the whole country, especially to those who were immediately concerned in it. The blame must fall somewhere; and Gen. Palmer's letter, recommending an abandonment of the enterprise, gave to Gen. Spencer, the commander in chief, on whom the principal responsibility rested, an advantageous position for casting it upon him. But his honorable acquittal by the court martial, before which the matter was brought, and the preceding correspondence, which every where exhibits Gen. Palmer as urgent to execute the enterprise with the greatest possible dispatch, should remove from the minds of an impartial posterity every suspicion that he can be justly accused of any remissness in his duty. If his advice was injudicious, if he was influenced by timidity and irresolution, he may be justly censured; but he appears rather to have been governed in his course by sound judgment—the distinguished characteristic of Washington. Indeed the reader of Gen. Palmer's domestic correspondence, which we are obliged to suppress on account of its private character, will hardly escape the impression that he more closely resembled Washington for caution and prudence, combined with enterprise and energy, than any other officer of the Revolution.
Owing, however, to the wound which his feelings had received, he soon retired from public life, and with his son, struggled for a few years to rescue his fortune from the utter wreck which threatened to fol
low. We found him at the commencement of the war in affluence; we find him at the close of it, on the verge of bankruptcy.
His feelings in respect to the Rhode Island affair, and the condition of his private affairs at the present time, may be learned from the following letters.
To the Hon. Mr. Spooner.
Dear Sir—By what my son tells me, I suppose that I shall be brought to trial about the Rhode Island affair, before the court martial. I am glad there is to be a hearing, and I doubt not it will be a fair one, and that I shall have timely notice of the charge against me, and of the evidence from the colonels in my late brigade. The day I left Tiverton, Miss A. B. told me that the General had determined to throw all the blame upon me, and that Gen. Cornel, your townsman, had undertaken to carry the matter through. I think myself extremely injured, and that no part I have acted since the commencement of these difficulties has been more innocent, not to say meritorious, than my conduct at Tiverton. I glory in the opposition I made towards the latter part of the month. Before that, I could and would have joined heartily in a descent, though I thought and still think it was very weakly provided for, and that there never were more than half boats enoughYou know much of my conduct, and to you I can cheerfully appeal.
The affair of the boats was chiefly committed to you, and your evidence will be necessary. I can cheerfully die to serve the glorious cause of liberty; but then let me die as I ought, as an innocent man, and not bring the curse of guilt upon an innocent and worthy family which will thereby suffer.
I have spent and lost five thousand pounds sterling in this great cause, and now my old friends look askance upon me, and I am despised for having been faithful to the trust reposed in me. But I must not enlarge. Adieu. J. PALMER.
Germantown, Dec. 22, 1777. Dear Sir—The reports of my being ordered to be tried at a court martial—that I ought to be shot, &c., which have circulated in various shapes in the country, led me, although in great pain, to wait upon you last week, when you were so obliging as to show me the order of court for my being brought to trial. As I had no notice, not one moment's notice of the General's charge against me, until exhibited in open court, I could not fairly be supposed to be then prepared for a defense; and since that I have been long confined with a very severe disease, so as to render me in a great measure, incapable of private or public business; I am now better, and am preparing a statement of facts, which as I trust, will be fully supported by the best evidence, and will prove to the world, for the public must have it, how false, unjust, and barbarous my treatment has been. As I have had no copy of the General's charge; of the report of the court of inquiry; or of the orders of court, and as I am very desirous of an opportunity to make my defense upon the floor of the house, I must beg the favor of you, dear sir, not to bring me to trial until I have had an opportunity to lay the matter before the court in whose justice I confide. I have no favors to ask of the court, but only that justice may be done according to evidence, after a fair and candid hearing before them. If ever I exhibited any proof of public virtue, it was upon this expedition—and this is the reward || So long as life and ability remain, I will justify my conduct, even if certain death should be the consequence. Forgive me, my dear sir; I feel
the injury, and if you believe me innocent, you will feel for me. But I do not wish to arrest your judgment. Let that arise from evidence. I remain, dear sir, with every sentiment of esteem, your most humble servant, J. PALMER.
Hon. Maj. Gen. Hancock, Boston.
Providence, March 25th, 1778.
As several charges have been exhibited against me relative to a late intended expedition to Rhode Island, I would beg leave to add a few lines in addition to my statement of facts. It is said that I did not exert myself so much as I might and ought to have done in getting the boats ready. To this I reply that, although it was a department distinct from my duties as a general officer, and in some considerable degree incompatible therewith, yet, being zealous to comply with an order from the General and to forward the service, I exerted myself to the utmost to get them ready as soon as possible; but as they were brought in at different times, some as late as the night of the 14th of October, we could not know what repairs were necessary till they arrived. We met with great difficulty in procuring workmen, materials, and tools, all of which occasioned delay. With the General's approbation, I employed the Hon. Mr. Spooner to assist in this business, and he gave me reason to report that they would be all numbered, and ready on the 15th or 16th, I am not certain which, but think it was the 16th. In the morning, Gen. Lovel and myself called on Mr. Spooner, in order to take the list of the boats, in order to assign a proper division of them to each brigade. He, though zealous in the cause, could not get them ready so soon as he expected, but told us he would send us the list by 11 or 12 o'clock. The list not coming to hand in time, the General ordered the brigadiers to wait upon Mr. Spooner to receive the list and assign the boats to the brigades. This was agreed upon by the brigadiers, and they appointed to meet at Mr. Spooner's about sunset, as I think. I told them I would attend if possible; but as my health was feeble I might not be able to. If I did not I should be satisfied with their doing it without me. I called at the time appointed, but the other brigadiers not having arrived, I left, and thought I would call again in the morning, and so returned to my quarters. The other general officers met and transacted the business to their own and my satisfaction. This disappointment about the boats, if on the 16th, was one reason for putting off the attempt the following night; but there were other reasons assigned by the General; the deficiency of arms and ammunition, and the want of tow ropes. I must here beg that Maj. Munroe may be inquired of (under oath, if you judge it necessary) what he knows about the boats, tools, workmen and materials; also whether he knows of any sail-boat going down the river on the 19th at night, and if any, by whose orders ? and whether this occasioned our being discovered by the enemy But it is also said that my brigade's not meeting on the 16th agreeably to the orders of the 15th, prevented the attempt on the evening of the 16th. My brigade consisted of three regiments, Cotton's, Williams's and Thayer's. The two former met near the General's quarters agreeably to orders; but Thayer having leave from the General, did not come in till the morning of the 16th, when he came within about two miles of the other regiments, but did not join them, not being able to find them, as he said; but they were all in readiness for embarkation. Had it been ordered, it would have been as ready, I dare aver, as any brigade then on the ground. For as it had been agreed that only two regiments of each brigade
should embark at the first embarkation, I could have taken those two which were together, and then Thayer for the second embarkation, but on the same day, the 16th, the General desired me to endeavor to detain the volunteers five days longer, and to assure them that he hoped and expected to be ready the next day. And the General told them the reasons, fore mentioned, for putting off the atttempt at that tlme.
It has also been said that I did not give the necessary orders for my boats to repair to the place of embarkation on the night of the 19th.
This is as false as the former, for as each brigadier was by agreement to take care of his own boats, I gave the necessary orders; but in the morning word was brought to head quarters that some of mine and Gen. Lovel's boatmen refused to go, upon which I was going to take my horse, then eating oats, having been almost ridden down, when Major Kingsbury proposed to do the business in my behalf.
I am, sir, a greatly injured stranger, but with sentiments of esteem your humble servant,
Gen. Palmer did not long survive the Revolution. The exertions to which poverty drove him, proved too much for his advanced age. His property had been poured out like water during the first years of the war. In one of Gen. Palmer's letters he speaks incidentally of having expended, out of his private purse, 365000 sterling for the public. At the time of Preston's massacre in Boston, two stores, belonging to himself and his son, and richly filled with English goods, were burnt, and the loss putting him into immediate embarrassment for money, he was obliged to mortgage the Germantown estate. To relieve his property from this encumbrance, he went largely into the purchase of farms and tracts of land in Pomfret, Conn., hoping to realize from an advance in value, a handsome return for his investment. But being induced by his principal creditor, who promised to receive his pay in continental money, he sold his Pomfret lands at a disadvantage for that trash, which his creditor subsequently refused to take. We need not go largely into the details of this business; it is sufficient to say that he was obliged to sacrifice all his property, including the beautiful estate of Germantown, leaving him free of debt, but without any thing for his family. His energy of character however, soon put him upon vigorous efforts to secure a livelihood. He and his son prosecuted plans of various kinds for making salt, and dammed the eastern side of Boston neck for the purpose. His plan was to evaporate the sea water in extensive vats slated at the bottom. When the brine would bear an egg, it was to be drawn into pans, set in brick, by sluices, and then boiled into table salt. These extensive works were just completed to his mind, by the aid of a subscribed loan, when to his joy he discovered that the frost in winter, did better than the sun in summer, to strengthen his brine, as the ice formed upon it was perfectly fresh. He immediately set men to work to chop and remove it, thereby reducing the quantity of water in the vats, even faster than by evaporation. It was one of our coldest days of winter, clear and still, when he discovered this fact. Eager to let his son know of this new source of hope and confidence, he took a piece of the ice and walked into Boston. “My dear,” said he to his son's wife, “I have come to bring you a cake,” and taking the ice from his pocket, he explained to her the vast benefits he expected to derive from this operation of the frost. He could not be persuaded to stop, even to rest, but stepped immediately into
the house of Gov. Bowdoin, (who was one of his most intimate friends and a generous subscriber to the works,) to communicate the joyful intelligence. He returned to Roxbury that night after sunset, and incautiously sat down by a warm fire. It was soon perceived that he could neither speak nor move. He was struck with palsy. Every thing that love, or medical skill could do, was done, but of no avail. His mind was clear, and he died in the confident belief, that he had, in his new business, provided a competence for all he best loved. But in this he was mistaken. The dam on Boston neck is the only memorial left of the good, ardent and upright old man. One of the subscribers withdrew his patronage on the death of the father, and, on this account, the son could not carry on the plan. The pans were removed, to serve some other purpose, in a vessel that was going to Maine, and this vessel was wrecked. Thus perished the last remnant of the family estate. But Gen. Palmer died free from debt, according to his ardently expressed desire.
In closing this sketch, it may interest our readers to know a few general facts, respecting the descendants of Gen. Palmer. His only son, Joseph Pearse Palmer, we have seen acting with him, during the war, in the capacity—first, of brigade major, and next of quarter master general. On the decease of his father, he went to Vermont with the late Col. Keith, to examine the facilities for establishing themselves in some branch of the iron business. Shortly after he reached Windsor, he lost his life by being precipitated from a bridge, then erecting over the Connecticut. He left a numerous family. Gen. Palmer had also two daughters. One of them died unmarried. The other became the wife of her cousin, Mr. Joseph Cranch, superintendent of West Point, but died without children.