A Ravaged Staten Island in the Victorious New American Nation
How to treat the Loyalists?
British Troops Evacuate Staten Island: December 5, 1783
Photo courtesy of the Staten Island Borough President's Office/Michael Falco
The American Revolution was,
for Staten Island, a vicious civil war.
Reading history hardly gives us a full sense
of the suffering of the Dutch Reformed Congregation.
The entire population was traumatized. Throughout the conflict Staten Island was "neutral ground," the area sandwiched between the opposing armies, and thus the scene of countless raids, foraging expeditions, and pillaging operations. The remaining civilian population was reduced to desperation, “They feared everybody whom they saw.”
The physical environment was devastated: forests had been ruthlessly cut down to supply firewood for the troops; hills were cleared for redoubts and slopes had been covered with encampments. Churches and other buildings were burned, and private houses were occupied by troops.
The entire social environment, for eight years, was one of unrest. Crime went unpunished to a large degree. Families were divided. Many families left the island.Those who remained struggled to keep their young people straight amid the temptations of the times.
The mural at left depicts a small crowd waving sad goodbyes to the departing
British Troops. These were Loyalists who had taken refuge on Staten Island, seeking protection of the British troops. This reaction hardly endeared them
to the native Staten Islanders who had endured so much.
Rape as a Weapon of War
By the standards of the late 18th century, coercive, forcible intercourse was not sufficient for a charge of rape to result in conviction. Women were expected to resist but were believed
by men to be weakened by their appetites, and if they failed
to fend of unwanted advances, it was often considered consent.
Rape by British soldiers became a powerful propaganda tool for the American cause:
"Rape resonated as a means to disgrace and dismiss the British imperial system by transforming attacks on individual bodies into attacks on the body politic. As American soldiers fought for their own rights as independent men, rape stories rallied supporters around the moral and political condemnation of the British Empire.”
Sharon Block in
Rape and Sexual Power in Early America
George Washington himself gave orders on the eve of his surprise attack on Princeton about plundering and the treatment of women and children, seeking to make the distinction between Americans fighting for liberty and the predations of the invader:
"His Excellency General Washington strictly forbids all the officers and soldiers of the Continental army, of the militia and all recruiting parties, plundering any person whatsoever, whether Tories or others. The effects of such persons will be applied to public uses in a regular manner, and it is expected that humanity and tenderness to women and children will distinguish brave Americans, contending for liberty, from infamous mercenary ravagers, whether British or Hessians."
On Staten Island, plundering was widespread during Sullivan's expedition, and it certainly was not limited to legitimate military spoils such as small armed vessels, officer's quarters, and barns full of forage, but extended to plundering of civilian homes. There is the possibility that some Continental soldiers resorted to rape as well.
Alexander Hamilton vs. Isaac Ledyard
in a Pamphlet War
Social Media in the 18th Century
Our Congregant, Dr. Isaac Ledyard, (1755 – 1803) a physician, was the Health Officer of the Port of New York
and a medical purveyor for Washington's Continental Army.
He was an Elector in 1800, the year Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied for President, necessitating an amendment of the US Constitution.
His sarcophagus is in the North Cemetery, but we believe Ledyard and his wife, Ann, rest under the sidewalk. When the sarcophagus was moved to make way for Port Richmond Avenue paving and sidewalks Isaac and Ann were left in place.
British fleet anchored in New York Harbor