General Anthony Wayne

THE seventh year of the old war for independence (1781) opened with an extraordinary display of patriotism on the part of the Continental soldiers. Always lacking means for the prompt performance of their legitimate duties, the Congress were always dilatory in carrying out their promises embodied in resolutions. The consequence was that the army suffered great privations for want of money and clothing. Not comprehending the real weakness of the Congress, loud complaints were uttered that sometimes grew into the manifestations of a mutinous spirit. The tardiness in exchanging prisoners, and the seeming neglect of them by the Congress, had been a source of much dissatisfaction from the time when the sugar-houses and churches in the city of New York were made prisons for the reception of American captives taken on Long Island and at Fort Washington in 1776. Their sufferings in those sugar-houses, three in number, and in the Provost prison under the wicked rule of Marshall Cunningham, were very terrible. The story of the horrors of those prisons and of the prison-ships near New York form some of the darkest chapters in human history.

At the time we are considering there was great dissatisfaction in the army because of the official interpretation of the words "for three years or during the war," in the terms of enlistment of the private soldiers. The latter claimed that it meant for three years if the war continued, or to be discharged sooner if the war should cease. The official interpretation was that it meant for three years or longer if the war continued. This matter, the promises of Congress repeatedly broken, and the real sufferings of the soldiers at that time from lack of necessaries for themselves and their families, partly on account of the worthlessness of the Continental money, caused thirteen hundred men of the Pennsylvania line to march from the camp at Morristown for Princeton, on the first of January, 1781, with the avowed intention of going to Philadelphia and, in person, demanding justice at the hands of Congress. General Wayne, their commander, tried by threats and persuasions to induce them to return to their duty. They regarded their time of enlistment as fulfilled; and when he placed himself before them and cocked his pistol, they presented bayonets at his breast, declaring that much as they loved and respected him, they would put him to death instantly if he should fire. He appealed to their patriotism. Finding they would not listen to him, he resolved to accompany them. At Princeton they gave him a written list of their demands. They appeared reasonable. He caused them to be laid before Congress, who promptly complied with them as far as possible, and disbanded a larger portion of the Pennsylvania line for the winter, which was filled by new recruits in the spring.

When Sir Henry Clinton heard of this movement, he mistook the spirit of the mutineers and hoped to gain great advantage from the revolt. He passed over to Staten Island with troops to support them, and sent two emissaries among them, with a New Jersey Tory, bearing an offer to pay them the arrearages of their wages in hard cash, clothe them well, give each a free pardon, and take them under the protection of the British government if they should lay down their arms and march to New York. The soldiers treated his offers with scorn. "See, comrades," said one of them, "he takes us for traitors. Let us show him that the American army can furnish but one Arnold, and that American has no truer friends than we." They immediately seized the emissaries, and handed them over to Wayne to be tried as spies. They were found guilty and executed. The reward which had been offered for the apprehension of the emissaries was tendered to the soldiers, when they crowned their act of patriotism by refusing it, saying: "Necessity wrung from us the act of demanding justice from Congress, but we desire no reward for doing our duty to our bleeding country."

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