Words To Remember

"The truth is this--genealogy is our living, and we are busy every minute, [and we] could use more hours." --Jane Wethy Foley, 1942

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Tory Trio: Judith Verplanck, Betsey Loring and Gen. William Howe

Judith Crommelin was born 16 Sept. 1739 in Amsterdam to Daniel Crommelin and his wife, Marie Le Plastrier. Daniel had been born in New York, a brother to Samuel Verplanck's wife Mary. After emigrating to Holland from New York in 1724 at age 17, he became a 'poorter' (freeman) of Amsterdam on 26 June 1737.  Daniel became a successful merchant as founder of the house Daniel Crommelin & Sons which continued for several generations. His firm made large loans to the United States shortly after the American Revolution.

A family portrait, unfortunately lost in a fire at the Crommelin's Dutch estate, shows Daniel with his wife and children.  Behind the table stands the eldest daughter, Judith. The young lady did not lack daring, judging by her marriage at 21 to her American cousin.

The unknown painter depicts Daniel seated in a domed room at Hofrust with his wife, Marie le Plastrier, surrounded by their five surviving children, of the ten born to them. Judging by the age of the children the family may have been painted in 1753 or 1754.  Judith is standing behind the table. With the looking glass, which she holds in her hands, she probably watched the ship as it passed. Already Judith dreamed of America, her father's native land, as she met her future husband while he was working for Daniel.
Judith, like many of Dutch women, was not only raised to be a wife but was also viewed as her husbands' partner in business by Dutch society as well. More than "deputy husbands," women in colonial New York were actively engaged in the family business on a daily basis. This more-equal footing in business carried also over to their personal lives. The Dutch legal system emphasized communal marital property and prenuptial agreements were sometimes written. Dutch women even retained their maiden names when having legal dealings, unlike their English counterparts.

But from the late seventeenth into the early eighteenth century, after the English had taken control of the Dutch colony, women's standing in society and in law changed. It has been argued that as English common law replaced Dutch law in New York, Dutch women lost legal autonomy and personal status. Statistics reveal a decline in women's proprietorships and a decrease in the use of joint wills by Dutch husbands and wives as evidence of this loss of independent action.  Judith, however, held to the older way of being a partner in business as well as life.

Samuel worked in the banking house of his uncle/father-in-law until 1763. He and Judith then returned to New York and took possession of the impressive town-house built by his father before 1750.  The Wall Street house, No. 3, was located just east of the City Hall. It was demolished in 1822 and today is the site of the Bank of the United States. Samuel most likely purchased then a suite of furniture for his parlor which is now part of the “Verplanck Room” in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The façade of the house was preserved in 1924 as the front of the museum's American Wing.

The Verplanck Mansion in the late 18th century, rendered by artist Edward P. Christie
The Verplanck Room, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, showcases furniture purchased by Samuel and Judith on their return to New York.  The portraits on the back wall are Samuel (left) and his younger brother Gulian (right).  Over the fireplace hang the two paintings given as gifts to Judith Verplanck by British Gen. William Howe.
 At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Samuel supported the Revolutionary cause, but Judith did not. The pair's relationship served as a mirror of New Yorkers' reactions to the war.

In the years preceding the Revolution, New York City witnessed patriot agitation as was found elsewhere in the American colonies. New Yorkers observed boycotts of British goods, erected liberty poles and harassed Loyalists. The residents of New York were split in their devotion to their causes.

On the Patriot's side, artisans, mechanics and other disenfranchised individuals had fewer stakes in the status quo and fewer qualms about using violence and intimidation to further their aims. However, the Loyalists seemed to defy any neat categorization in New York City. As would be expected, they included many royal officials with a direct personal stake in the status quo. Most loyalists concurred with the patriots' jealous defense of their colony's rights against Parliamentary usurpation but would demur at armed rebellion.

In the meantime, William Howe (5th Viscount Howe) arrived at Boston on 25 May 1775, having learned en route that war had broken out with the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April. He led a force of 4,000 troops sent to reinforce the 5,000 troops under Gen. Thomas Gage that were besieged in the city after those battles.

As a young officer, Howe had served in North America from 1758 to 1761, eventually leading his brigade up the cliffs at Quebec to help Wolf defeat Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham.  His older brother Richard had sailed as a 16-year-old midshipman with Admiral George Anson on his arduous, aborted voyage around the world. Thereafter he had risen rapidly from command to command, becoming treasurer of the Navy in 1765 and a rear admiral five years later.

Both Howes, moreover, had had attachments for many years with the Colonies. Their elder brother, George, was one of the few British generals who was popular there.  He was killed fighting near Ticonderoga in 1758 during the French and Indian War. The colony of Massachusetts even raised £250 to erect a monument in Westminster Abbey in London.  In fact, as a member of Parliament from Nottingham, William told his constituents that if offered a command in any war against the Colonies, he would refuse to serve.

After Howe's arrival, Gage--along with Howe and Generals Henry Clinton and John Burgoyne--discussed plans to break the siege. They formulated a plan to seize high ground around Boston and then attack the besieging militia forces and planned its execution for the 18th of June. To Howe went the honor of leading a direct attack on the colonial fortifications atop Breed's Hill, still in the process of being built.

Despite a sense of urgency while the colonists were still working on the reinforcements, the attack--now known as the Battle of Bunker Hill--did not begin until that afternoon. With Howe personally leading the right wing of the attack, the first two assaults were firmly repulsed by the colonial defenders. Howe's third assault gained the objective, but the cost of the day's battle was appallingly heavy.

Howe (in the center background) leads his troops in the assault on Bunker (Breed's) Hill. (Painting by Percy Moran)
The British casualties (more than 1,000 killed or wounded) were the highest of any engagement in the war.  Howe described it as a "success...too dearly bought." Although Howe exhibited courage on the battlefield, his tactics and overwhelming confidence were criticized. One subordinate wrote that Howe's "absurd and destructive confidence" played a role in the number of casualties incurred.

Although Howe was not injured in the battle, it had a pronounced effect on his spirit. According to British historian George Otto Trevelyan, the battle "exercised a permanent and most potent influence" especially on Howe's behavior and that his military skills thereafter "were apt to fail him at the very moment when they were especially wanted."

Despite an outward appearance of confidence and popularity with his troops, Howe--described as tall and dark, a genial six-footer with a face some described as 'coarse'--privately often exhibited a lack of self-confidence. For his victory at Bunker Hill, when Gen. Gage resigned to return to England, Howe was appointed as his successor.

British military plans, made with recommendations from Howe, called for the abandonment of Boston and the establishment of bases in New York and Newport, RI, in an attempt to isolate the rebellion to New England. When orders arrived in November to execute these plans, Howe opted to remain in Boston for the winter and to begin the campaign in 1776. As a result, the remainder of the Siege of Boston was largely a stalemate. Howe never attempted a major engagement with the Continental Army, which had come under the command of Major General George Washington.

Throughout the winter, Howe did, however, spend a fair amount of time at the gambling tables and allegedly established a relationship with another woman while he was in Boston.  Though Howe was married to Frances Connelly in 1765, their marriage was childless and she remained in London.

In profligate London, Admiral Howe was renowned as a faithful husband. Not so Brother William--a shallower, more convivial personality who, though married, liked his lass and his glass. Howe's Boston companion was Elizabeth (Betsey) Lloyd Loring, the wife of Loyalist Joshua Loring Jr. Elizabeth was from the Lloyd family of Long Island. Members of that family dealt with New York Mayor Abraham De Peyster and other members of the Dutch business elite.

Betsy Loring had married into the prestigious Loring family of British loyalists in Boston, but American Patriots raided her father-in-law’s house in the country, forcing the Lorings to flee for the city. The British Commander-in-Chief, Gen. Thomas Gage, gave her father-in-law Joshua Loring Sr. a generous appointment in the army to make up for the financial losses caused by the rebel mob.

They settled into a home not far from the British headquarters and from here Betsy noticed Gen. William Howe, who had just arrived from England. He shared her favorite vices–a fondness for wine, gambling and pleasure. After just a few weeks, she became his mistress, following him wherever the British forces moved. And, not one to miss a financial opportunity, her husband Joshua Loring Jr., followed them too–to receive his hush money which he all too quickly gambled away.

The Loring Mansion at Jamaica Plain, MA, known today as the Loring-Greenough House
Gen. Howe's goings on with pretty blonde Betsey Loring, 25, whom he brought with him to New York (along with her complaisant husband), had already given rise to a number of salacious ditties. Because of her unofficial power, she was known among British officers as "The Sultana."  She was known to the Boston newspapers in the 1770s as "a brilliant and unprincipled woman" and "the flashing blonde."

The siege of Boston was broken in March 1776 when Continental Army Col. Henry Knox brought heavy artillery from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston during the winter and Gen. Washington used them to fortify Dorchester Heights, overlooking Boston and its harbor. Howe at first planned an assault on this position, but a snowstorm interfered and he eventually decided to withdraw from Boston. On March 17th, British troops and Loyalists evacuated the city.

Howe and his troops began to arrive outside New York harbor and made an uncontested landing on Staten Island in early July.  Howe--whose orders from Lord George Germain, the London official responsible for the war, were fairly clear that he should avoid conflict before the arrival of reinforcements--then waited until those reinforcements arrived in mid-August, along with the naval commander, his brother Admiral Lord Richard Howe. This delay proved to be somewhat costly, since the Americans used this time to improve fortifications on northwestern Long Island (at Brooklyn Heights) and increase the size of their army with militia.

Battle of Long Island
After moving most of his army to southwestern Long Island without opposition, he attacked the American positions on Aug. 27.  In a well-executed maneuver, a large column led by Howe and Clinton passed around the American left flank, routing the Americans from their forward positions into the entrenchments on Brooklyn Heights. Despite the urging of Clinton and others, Howe decided against an immediate assault on these fortifications, claiming "the Troops had for that day done handsomely enough."  He instead began siege operations, methodically advancing on the entrenched Americans.

The memory of the carnage of the frontal assault at Bunker Hill churned in Howe's memory as he justified his slow siegeworks approach: "...the lines must have been ours at a very cheap rate by regular [siege] approaches, [and] I would not risk the loss that might have been sustained in the assault."  Howe astutely realized that wars were not simply won on the battlefield and also wanted to give the colonists the image of British invincibility. Therefore, he refused to engage his troops in a battle unless it was on his terms and there was strong prospect of victory.  England must not be defeated and could not afford a loss to boost patriot morale, according to his thinking.

After the battle--under the cover of a moonless night and aided by a miraculously thick fog--Washington evacuated the works on Long Island by rowboats with muffled oars. The next morning the British woke up to find the works abandoned and not a trace of the rebels left. The evacuation was a military miracle, which Washington accomplished through a combination of daring, foul weather and luck.

Washington's Army retreating after the Battle of Long Island
There was nothing Howe could have done to prevent this event from occurring despite having an advanced guard inside the Americans works minutes after they were evacuated. Admiral Howe, commanding the Navy could not get his ships into the East River to block the escape because of the weather. Howe had decisively won the Battle of Long Island, but the rebels avoided certain annihilation by escaping to Manhattan.

Historian George Billias notes that had Howe attacked Brooklyn Heights, the capture of even half of Washington's army and possibly Washington himself might have had a significant effect on the rebellion. Some officers, notably Gen. Clinton, were critical of Howe's decision not to storm the American works. Despite the tactical failure, however, Howe was knighted as a reward for his victory on Long Island.

Howe and his brother Richard had--as part of their instructions--been assigned roles as peace commissioners, with limited authority to treat with the rebels. After Long Island, they pursued an attempt at reconciliation, sending the captured Gen. John Sullivan to Philadelphia with a proposal for a peace conference. The meeting that resulted, conducted by Admiral Howe, was unsuccessful. So when the conference failed, Howe continued the campaign.

Fear of Howe's pending invasion only served to heighten New York's anxiety and prompted many colonists to flee the city in droves just before the battle began.  Their exodus continued, as recorded by a loyalist-leaning Moravian pastor, Rev. Shewkirk:

"The City looks in some streets as if the Plague had been in it, so many houses being shut up."

The departure of so many royal officials, rich merchants and landed gentry destroyed the hierarchical networks that had dominated most of the colonies. In New York, the departure of key members of the De Lancy (related by marriage to the Verplancks), De Peyster, Walton (Samuel and Judith's son Daniel would marry Anne Walton) and Cruger families undercut the interlocking families that largely owned and controlled the Hudson Valley. 

Howe first landed troops on Manhattan on Sept. 15 and occupied New York City (which then occupied only Lower Manhattan), although his advance northward on Manhattan was checked the next day at Harlem Heights. He then paused, spending nearly one month consolidating control of the city and awaiting reinforcements.

When the British took Manhattan, Samuel and Judith separated.  He retired to Mount Gulian near Fishkill, Dutchess County, and Judith stayed in the Wall Street house throughout the war.

As for the rest of the city's population, the friendly reception His Majesty's soldiers received upon entering New York City, as recorded by Shewkirk, indicates that some welcomed the British as liberators:

"Monday, Sept. 16th--In the forenoon the first of the English troops came to town. They were drawn up in two lines in the Broad Way; Governor Tryon and others of the officers were present, and a great concourse of people. Joy and gladness seemed to appear in all countenances, and persons who had been strangers one to the other formerly, were now very sociable together, and friendly."

New York in 1775-76
Contrary to what contemporaries and historians have written, Howe was not precisely idle during this time.  He ordered the execution of Nathan Hale for espionage and had to deal with the effects of a major fire in the city. The fire destroyed 10 to 25 percent of the city and some unburned parts of the city were plundered. Many people believed or assumed that one or more people deliberately started the fire, for a variety of different reasons. British leaders accused rebels acting within the city and many residents assumed that one side or the other had started it. The fire had long-term effects on the British occupation of the city, which did not end until the British left the city in 1783.

A fire burned 400 to 1,000 structures in New York days after the British captured the city in 1776.
Howe then attempted a landing on the mainland at Throck's Neck on Oct. 18th, intending to flank Washington's position at Harlem Heights. However, the narrow causeway between the beach and the mainland was well-defended and he ended up withdrawing the troops.  He then made a successful landing of troops at Pell's Point in Westchester County; Washington managed to avoid being flanked, retreating to White Plains.

The 1st Delaware Regiment held Chatterton's Hill against the British assault and then gave covering fire while Washington's army retreated from the battlefield.  They were the last troops to leave the hill.
Washington established his headquarters at the Elijah Miller House in North White Plains on Oct. 23, and chose a defensive position that he fortified with two lines of entrenchments. The trenches were situated on raised terrain, protected on the right by the swampy ground near the Bronx River, with steeper hills behind as a place of retreat.

The British attack was organized with Hessian regiments leading the assault. Johann Rall was to charge the American right, while a Hessian battalion under Donop was to attack the center. A British column under General Leslie was to attack the right. Donop's force either had difficulty crossing the river or was reluctant to do so and elements of the British force were the first to cross the river. Rall's charge scattered the militia on the American right, leaving the flank of the Maryland and New York regiments exposed as they poured musket fire onto the British attackers, which temporarily halted the British advance. The exposure of their flank caused them to begin a fighting retreat, which progressively forced the remainder of the American line to give way and retreat. Haslet's Delaware regiment, which anchored the American left, provided covering fire while the remaining troops retreated to the north, and were the last to leave the hill. The fighting was intense and both sides suffered significant casualties before the Continentals made a disciplined retreat.

After Howe successfully forced Washington out of the New York area with the Battle of White Plains, he turned his attention to consolidate British hold on Manhattan. In November, he attacked the remaining Continental Army stronghold in the Battle of Fort Washington, taking several thousand prisoners.  With no place to billet prisoners on land, the British held the Continentals in boats in the harbor.

Joshua Loring Jr.--husband of Howe's mistress--was in charge of prisoners, taking a flat rate per capita, but there was no audit as to what he actually spent and minimal attention to how many prisoners died. (Dead men did not require rations and the payments were not reduced until the death was noted on the rolls.) He was a powerful figure in the British military administration. He had a habit, Americans grumbled, of lining his own pockets. (Some say supplying the military prisons in New York was an impossible job for anyone.)

Prisoners of Continental forces were held in overcrowded boats anchored in New York's harbor, where they were starved and diseased, dying by the thousands.
Washington then retreated across New Jersey, followed by Howe's advance forces under Gen. Charles Cornwallis.  At this point, Howe prepared troops under the command of Gen. Clinton for embarkation to occupy Newport, the other major goal of his plan. Clinton proposed that these troops instead be landed in New Jersey, either opposite Staten Island or on the Delaware River, trapping Washington or even capturing the seat of the Continental Congress, Philadelphia.

But Howe rejected these proposals, dispatching Clinton and Gen. Hugh Percy {Earl Percy}, two vocal critics of his leadership, to take Newport. In early December, Howe came to Trenton, NJ, to arrange the disposition of his troops for the winter. Washington had retreated all the way across the Delaware and Howe returned to New York, believing the campaign to be ended for the season. The main British army at that point basically prepared to settle into winter quarters, based in New York. Gen. Howe followed the European tradition of not fighting during the winter months.

For most of the war, New York was fairly secure against any American attempt to recapture it.  And, for the more wealthy Loyalist residents--including Judith Verplanck--life continued much as before, with galas and glittering balls occupying their social calendar during the winter "season."

Judith entertained her Loyalist friends and, in the process, garnered a friendship with Gen. Howe.  Exactly how close their relationship was is unknown and there is no proof that Judith and Howe were intimate. Judith is described by her grandson, Gulian Crommelin Verplanck, as

"particularly accomplished, and versed not only in several modern languages, but in Greek  and Latin, speaking fluently the Latin...which...furnish[es] so rich a store of phrases for ordinary dialogue. Her conversation is said to have been uncommonly brilliant and her society much sought. During the Revolutionary war, her house was open to the British officers, General Howe, and others, accomplished men...."

Meantime, she wrote anxious letters to her father in Amsterdam, which were answered in neat French. The banker consoled his daughter by saying that

"Mr. Samuel Verplanck was a man so universally known and honored, both for his integrity and scholarly attainments, that in the end all would be well."  

This proved true; the Verplancks' extensive estate at Fishkill was never confiscated and its owner was left unmolested.  Perhaps Judith managed to influence Howe just enough to not confiscate or lay waste to their property in Dutchess County.

Whatever their relationship, Howe presented Judith with two paintings, The Temptation of Eros and The Victory of Eros, both in the style of the Swiss artist Angelica Kauffmann.  The paintings now hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Verplanck Room.

Victory of Eros
The Temptation of Eros
Howe has been criticized by contemporaries and historians for failing to decisively defeat the Continental Army during the New York campaign. Contemporaries complained that his landing in Westchester County failed to trap Washington, but they failed to understand that his goal in the campaign was to secure Manhattan and not necessarily to defeat Washington.

Howe, after unsuccessfully attempting to draw Washington into a battle in northern New Jersey, embarked his army on transports and landed them at the northern of Chesapeake Bay. From there, he advanced northward toward Philadelphia. Washington prepared defenses against Howe's movements at Brandywine Creek but was flanked and beaten back in the Battle of Brandywine on 11 Sept. 1777. After further skirmishes and maneuvers, Howe was able to enter and occupy Philadelphia. Washington then unsuccessfully attacked one of Howe's garrisons at Germantown before retreating to Valley Forge for the winter.

Howe's campaign was controversial because, although he successfully captured the American capital of Philadelphia, he proceeded slowly and did not aid the concurrent campaign of Gen. John Burgoyne further north, which ended in disaster at Saratoga for the British, and brought France into the war.

In October 1777, Howe sent his letter of resignation to London, complaining that he had been inadequately supported in that year's campaigns. A grand party, known as the "Mischianza," was thrown for the departing general on 18 May 1778 near Philadelphia. Organized by his aides John André and Oliver De Lancey Jr., the party featured a grand parade, fireworks, and dancing until dawn.  Quite possibly, Judith may have attended this fete.

But what of Betsey Loring and her husband, Joshua? Although Joshua was bitterly execrated in America, Generals Gage, Lord Howe, and Lord Cornwallis himself wrote letters praising him. Cornwallis wrote:

I had frequent Opportunities of observing the Conduct of Joshua Loring Esqr in his Office as Commissary of Prisoners and I always found him diligent & attentive to his Duty: I can truly certify that he is a Gentleman of exceeding good Character and that he lost his Estate by his Attachment to his Majesty’s Government. (Signed) Cornwallis Mansfield Street 20th April 1783

The tale that Betsey so engrossed Howe’s attention that he neglected his military duties and thus lost the American colonies has been dwelt upon and enlarged by various writers of recent times who have used their imaginations to fill in details, writes Eva Phillips Boyd. "All hark back to one or both of two sources, neither reliable: the first a scurrilous reference in Francis Hopkinson’s self-styled 'harmonious ditty,' The Battle of the Kegs; the other, statements of Judge Thomas Jones in his History of New York in the Revolution."

Judge Jones, a New Yorker who had lost heavily in the conflict, hated both sides. While he denounced Howe as stupid and corrupt, he characterized American leaders as knaves or uneducated fools. When E. Alfred Jones cites Judge Jones as authority for the scandal, he adds, "Jones’s observations must, however, be received with caution." Jones was himself a prisoner in Connecticut under the order of Loring and his cattle had been plundered for British army use. And Bellamy Partridge, in his Sir Billy Howe, after relating his version of the matter, admits that contemporary writings have not shed any considerable light on the subject.

Beyond doubt, Betsey was, to say the least, careless of her reputation, although her husband, who was a close friend of Howe, was with her throughout the period in question until she left America in 1778. And it is certain that Joshua was broken in health and spirit as well as finances when they resettled together at Englefield near Reading, England. Yet his wife bore him three more children there in the years before he died in 1789.  Betsey herself lived until 1831.

After Howe was recalled to England for "dissipation and high play," Judith remained in Manhattan until her death in 1803.  Samuel remained at his country home until his death in 1820.

Alden, John R., A History of the American Revolution (New York: Da Capo Press, 1989 reprint of 1969 publication).

Becker, Carl L. The History of Political Parties in the Province of New York, 1760-1776 (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1909).

Billias, George Athan, George Washington's Opponents (New York: William Morrow, 1969).

Brooks, Victor, The Boston Campaign (Conshohocken, PA: Combined Publishing, 1999).

Boyd, Eva Phillips, Commander Joshua Loring of Jamaica Plain by Way of London. Old-Time New England magazine, April-June 1959.

Diary entries of August 24 & 25, 1775 by Reverend Shewkirk; quoted in The Campaign of 1776 Around New York and Brooklyn by Henry P. Johnson (Brooklyn, NY: Long Island Historical Society, 1878).

Fischer, David Hackett, Washington's Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Flick, Alexander, Loyalism in New York During the American Revolution (New York: The Columbia University Press, 1901).

Gruber, Ira, The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution (New York: Atheneum Press, 1972).

Ketchum, Richard M., Decisive Day: The Battle of Bunker Hill (New York: Owl Books, 1999).

Letter of March 21, 1776 from the John Eustace to Charles Lee; Lee Papers (New York: New York Historical Society, 1871).

Mainwaring, Rowland Broughton, Historical Record of the Royal Welch Fusiliers (London: Hatchards, Piccadilly, 1889).

Nelson, William H., The American Tory (New York, 1961).

Ranlet, Phillip, The New York Loyalists (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1986).

Trevelyan, George Otto, The American Revolution, Part 1 (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1898).

Wertenbaker, Thomas Jefferson, Father Knickerbocker Rebels: New York City During the Revolution (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948).

No comments:

Post a Comment