Bowery in Dutch means a colonial plantation or farm. In late June 1775 – Connecticut Provincials made farm fields on Bowery Lane in New York their temporary home while British soldiers made a hasty retreat to ships in the East River.
The presence of General David Wooster and 1500 to 2000 of his men made the occupants of the King’s garrison near Battery Park uncomfortable. Connecticut men were there at the request of the New York Provincial Convention and their mission was to protect city residents from British and Tory aggression.
Beginning in April Wooster assembled men from New Haven, Fairfield and Litchfield Counties at various camps between Horseneck (Greenwich) and New Haven, Connecticut. His force was equipped and ready for action forty-five days later. Wooster’s Brigade mustered at Horseneck before moving into New York. As Wooster searched for housing in New York City, HMS Asia set anchor in the East River. This ship was a sixty-four gun man-of-war commanded by Captain George Vandeput. The ship could easily accommodate the New York guards. Not much is written about Captain Vandeput except that he was the illegitimate son of an English baron and that the Asia was his first command. (A rendering of HMS Asia is shown above).
Wooster’s Chaplin, Benjamin Trumbull, recorded that some of Wooster’s men left Greenwich, Connecticut on June 27 and arrived a little west of Bowery Lane the next day “wet from storms.” One of Waterbury’s men confirmed that he marched to the Bowery on June 28. He pitched his tent about a mile from the city center. Rivington’s Gazetteer reported that up to 2000 men would eventually camp behind Mr. Nicolas Herring’s house near the Bowery Lane. The patriot’s camp was further reported to be on the property and orchard of Mr. Herring. One of Waterbury’s men confirmed that he camped with Wooster at a place called “Herring’s Orchard north of the city.” (The approximate location of Wooster’s Camp is shown on the 1767 map as “Herrin” property, below).
The Captain of HMS Asia may have glimpsed Wooster’s men through a spy glass when they appeared near New York City’s Bowery. If not Tories certainly conveyed the unwelcome news that many Connecticut Provincials had arrived. It is believed that HMS Asia was moored in the vicinity of shipyards near the southwest end of the New York Island. Captain Vandeput immediately requested supplies from New York City’s Tory mayor who quickly reassured him that supplies were on the way. Ardent patriots in the city, so-called Sons of Liberty, resented such cooperation as well as the city’s Tory leadership. Their patience must have been stretched to the limit as their neighbors seemingly ignored the decrees of the Continental Congress.
With Wooster’s men now within the very city, local patriots became increasingly assertive. To an onlooker Wooster’s Camp was impressive. Visualize ten to twenty rows of soldier’s white A-frame tents. As many as twenty officer’s bell tents may have also been interspersed throughout the camps. Typical specifications for soldier’s A-frame tents called for strong linen or cotton fabric of sufficient size to house five or six men. The material used for tents was commonly called English Duck or an alternative trademarked fabric called Ravens Duck. New York officials advised that they, “… supplied Gen. Wooster with upwards of 200 tents made of the very best materials.”
Wooster’s men had access to the fresh water stream in the northwest corner of the Herring property. A nearby fresh water source was absolutely necessary.
The so-called Bowery was a popular lane where some of the upper class lived in mansions and operated large farms. The lane connected several of these farms and orchards with wharves and outdoor markets in the city. Some of residents on Bowery Lane welcomed the security of Wooster’s force. As a show of cooperation and hospitality New York officials ordered that every gunsmith in the city repair the weapons of the Connecticut troops. But many of the wealthy residents in the city were Tories and weren’t as welcoming. They resented the presence of Connecticut troops in their midst viewing them, “…as a mark of disgrace and punishment to New York…” Connecticut soldiers would keep close watch on such detractors. The Sons of Liberty no doubt collaborated with Wooster and provided intelligence about Tory activities. The Sons resented Tories more than British troops.
Connecticut men would be dazzled by what they experienced near the Bowery – three story brick homes, numerous mansions, the bustle of commerce and people and unending taverns. So-called taverns were the hotels restaurants of the day. They provided travelers with a meal and bed to sleep in.
About 20,000 people were cramped into a relatively small area called New York City. The city itself was a center of shipbuilding and was a bustling port. Wharves on the Hudson and East Rivers were filled with ships and warehouses. Trade goods ready for ships or awaiting overland transportation, were stacked along extensive docks. Teamsters were ever present loading and moving goods night and day. There were craftsmen of every stripe and many shops. While most commerce was related to shipping and trade, residents of the city also provided services to satisfy the needs of transients as well as the local population.
While stationed in New York Wooster’s men were well furnished with provisions by Connecticut’s Deputy Commissary. An account of items provided is shown in Table 3 below. Of particular interest was a large quantity of chocolate, molasses for beer making, 260 gallons of rum and various materials for boatbuilding.
Many of the food items listed in the table below were probably used as simple stew ingredients. Pick axes were used for trenching and road work. Hatchets, a universal camp tool, were not only used to split firewood but more often were used like a hammer. Blankets were made of wool; the large two point blankets were probably given to officers.
When Wooster’s force in New York grew to about 1700 men he apparently outgrew the Bowery encampment. Records show that he established additional camps in Harlem on the so-called plains. Some of his and Waterbury’s men were relocated there. One of them said they camped two miles northwest of the city where the men “pitched” their tents. The 1776 map in Figure 4 shows the location of Harlem Heights and the Harlem Plains. It is thought that some of Waterbury’s men resided the Harlem Plains Camp as early as June 28. In the process of setting up camp, Waterbury’s Brigade Major, Major Daniel Dimon, was authorized to requisition several more officers’ bell tents. Dimon was from Fairfield and was twenty-eight years old. Bell tents were walled and arched to an elevated central point to allow for standing room. They generally housed several officers.
While Waterbury went about his business in Harlem Heights, General George Washington, commander of the Continental Army, and the Tory Governor of New York, William Tryon, arrived separately in the city. Tryon was on board HMS Kingfisher anchored at Sandy Hook. The governor received an eleven gun salute. Not surprisingly, Washington was greeted with little fanfare by city officials. Notably neither Wooster nor Waterbury mentioned any meetings with their commander-in-chief either.
Washington must have said something profound to ignite a fire under New York officials. After their meeting they authorized the formation of more regiments to protect the province of New York. They also sent gunpowder to Wooster and took decisive action to rid the city of a couple Tories who were on parole. Apparently keeping then in the city was deemed too risky. The parolees were the notorious Philip Skene and someone known as Mr. Lundy. Skene, the once designated British governor, resided at Skenesborough at the southern end of Lake Champlain. He just returned from England but his ship was diverted to Philadelphia where he was placed under house arrest. Both men were sent under guard to Middleton in Hartford County, Connecticut. But one of Wooster’s men reported that he was assigned to escort only Skene to the Hartford jail. Lundy apparently escaped.
If Wooster wished for an assignment elsewhere, orders from Congress on the first of July dashed his hopes. It ordered that he and his men remain in New York City. The days were long, boring and hot. While there was some potential for a skirmish, the only activities were guard duty and surveillance of residents and workmen going about their daily business. Teamsters were ever-present at wharves and warehouses transferring supplies from shore to ships and visa-versa. The Provincial Congress previously authorized a local commissary to supply HMS Kingfisher to receive 2000 pounds of bread, two barrels of beef, two barrels of pork, four barrels of butter and one barrel of flour. This transaction was probably closely monitored by the Connecticut men. It was likely that Wooster’s men inventoried the supplies just to keep everyone honest. Guard duty also included watching livestock in Harlem. Under watchful eyes all available livestock was earmarked for patriots only.
But even more British stomachs arrived in the waters south of New York City. On June 29 the New York Journal reported that three British men-of-war and 16 tenders had anchored off Sandy Hook. This place was about twenty miles from Wooster’s guards. As alarming at it seemed the fleet probably merely took on supplies before sailing for Boston.
Wooster’s general orders of July 1st signaled an ominous invisible threat in a silent and deadly fight with his army. It was smallpox. When he heard that it was diagnosed nearby he directed that his men not go anywhere that the sickness was known to exist. Smallpox was an extremely debilitating and contagious disease. Although inoculation was available it was unreliable and expensive. No doubt many who could afford it were inoculated but Major Dimon and Lt Peter Hendrick, Waterbury’s Regiment, were the only men alleged to have been inoculated before going to New York. At least one other person in Wooster’s Regiment who could afford it took the risk of inoculation after he arrived in New York. It was Wooster’s Chaplin who was inoculated at Harlem. But he reacted badly and lay in bed on his back for a week. But his fever broke after nine days. He recorded that the pox “turned”. Unfortunately his health further deteriorated and he eventually returned home to convalesce.
While not meeting the letter of Congress’ order to remain in New York City, Wooster understood that being close probably met the letter of its intent. Overcrowded conditions and resources forced him to split his force. It is thought that most of his brigade went to Harlem but a respectable group remained near the city center and the Bowery. Their number is unknown. These troops could respond to trouble near the docks quickly.
On July 3, Colonel Waterbury, brigade officer of the day, tightened things up at the Harlem Garrison. His orders would establish an orderly and safe environment at there:
1. The guard at the main camp to be sixty-five men;
2. Corporal of the guard was to protect adjacent property and fences;
3. Fires for cooking were only allowed to the rear of the camp;
4. Captain of guard to visit sentries every two hours at night;
5. One subaltern (a lower rank officer) was to inspect camp cookery every day at 11 o’clock to be sure victuals are cooked well, especially peas;
6. Streets in camp are to be cleaned after breakfast;
7. All orders previously issued in Greenwich are to be obeyed.
Waterbury also ordered that for the next several days each man was to be issued one portion of fresh meat (fish, pork or beef) or if none was available then twice the amount of salted meat (brine soaked fish, pork or beef) be issued.
Waterbury also announced that Lt David Peet from Captain Read’s Company be confined in his tent, “… for being suspiciously guilty of introducing and carrying on a meeting among the soldiers.” Peet was from North Stratford and was forty-five years old. While the nature of his offence was unclear he was ultimately discharged – obviously a troublemaker.
On July 4, Lt Colonel Andrew Ward, Wooster’s officer of the day, announced rules to improve security, safety and discipline at the Bowery Garrison:
1. Add twenty privates to the main guard;
2. Troops were to attend military exercise from 5 am to 7 am (guards excluded);
3. A Corporal and a file of guards to patrol the streets in camp after beating of Tattoo (Tattoo was a drummer’s signal that troops should retire to their tents);
4. Persons not belonging to camp were to be arrested;
5. Officers were to be sure weapons were not loaded during military exercise.
Ward’s Bowery Garrison was about two miles southeast of the Harlem Garrison. Ward’s rules seemed to be geared to an inner-city setting.
On July 5 further orders were issued by the officer of the day, Major Thomas Hobby who was stationed at the Harlem Garrison:
1. The Captain of the guard was to suppress all noise in camp after Tattoo;
2. All firing in camp was forbidden.
Firing of weapons in camp was dangerous, wasteful and falsely alarmed others. Those who violated these rules were subject to arrest, fines or corporal punishment.
Wooster resented being the custodian of New York City scoundrels. But that didn’t stop officials from requesting that his men incarcerate more of them. Wooster grudgingly cooperated. He sent his men to arrest Mr. Peter Herring, the man who allegedly assisted in the escape of Mr. Lundy. Having boarded HMS Asia Lundy was apparently still onboard the ship. Herring was examined by New York officials and found guilty of assisting Lundy. Wooster confined Herring, in the Garrison at Harlem Heights but New York officials ordered his removal and confinement in Connecticut.
The Connecticut men remained in New York City until August when they were dispatched to Long Island to guard sheep and fodder. But that’s another episode for another time.
Images from above: HMS Asia in Halifax Harbor, by George Gustavus Lennock; East River map; 1775 Camp on the Bowery map, (courtesy Library of Congress); Table of Provisions Supplied to Connecticut Troops in New York During July 1775; Map of Harlem Heights (provided).