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BRIGADIER-GENERAL IN THE REVOLUTION, MEMBER OF THE CONSTITU
James Clinton, the father of De Witt Clinton, whose name is reverently cherished as the benefactor to the great State of New York and the friend and patron of internal improvements, as also the brother of Governor George Clinton, was born in Ulster County, N. Y., on August 9, 1736. Very early he took a liking to the hardy exercise and rude sports of the backwoodsman, and when quite young had already made one of several parties of trappers and hunters. It was in these excursions that he learned the habits and character of the neighboring Indians, which knowledge was of so much use to him in the subsequent wars. On the breaking out of the old French war, in 1755, he enlisted under Bradstreet, and was by that brave soldier made a captain the following year. In 1763 he was placed in command of a battalion raised for home defense, and subsequently he was promoted to the rank of colonel.
Colonel Clinton, together with his brother George, the Governor of New York during the Revolution, were among the first to espouse the cause of the patriots and to take up arms in defense of their rights. In 1775 he was joined to the army that was to be led against Quebec, and accompanied the brave Montgomery on his luckless and fatal expedition, and returned with the forlorn remnant of that devoted army. Here his qualities as a good soldier were put to the severest test, and were found equal to the emergency.
In 1776 Colonel Clinton was elevated to the rank of brigadiergeneral. He was placed in command, successively, of Forts Montgomery and Clinton, which he was compelled to abandon to the enemy after a most obstinate defense. He barely escaped with his life, and returned to the headquarters of the army, where his services were soon after required to lead a formidable force against the Indians, who, under Brant and the infamous Butlers, were spreading devastation with fire and sword throughout western New York.
In 1779 General Sullivan was ordered to proceed against this savage foe, whose bloody cruelty at Cherry Valley and other places had roused the indignation of the country to the highest pitch. General Clinton was united with Sullivan in this expedition, but led a separate force, which was to unite with that of Sullivan at Tioga. After much labor he reached, in July, the foot of Otsego Lake, around whose flat shores many of the Indians made their homes and raised their corn. It being a very dry season, he found the outlet of the lake quite too shallow to allow his boats to pass. In this dilemma he resorted to the expedient of damming the mouth of the outlet, which caused the water to overflow the banks, and thus to destroy the crops which were just then reaching the milk, and filling the savages with astonishment, who could not imagine by what cause such a sudden flood should overwhelm them in the middle of an unusually dry season. When the waters in the lake were sufficiently swollen the obstructions were removed, and his bateaux passed triumphantly on the bosom of the torrent, and thus he was enabled to effect his junction with Sullivan at Tioga. The object of the expedition was fully gained, and Brant and his brutal coadjutors, the brothers Butler, with their savage auxiliaries, were utterly scattered and dismayed. Many unnecessary cruelties were practised, and much valuable property was destroyed; but this was deemed necessary to inspire the minds of these savage foes with a sense of the prowess of American arms, and to deter them from further bloody atrocities. Yet it must forever cause the cheek of every humane American to tingle at the remembrance of the cruel deeds which were done by our fathers' hands in that relentless and bloody expedition.
During the remainder of the War of the Revolution, General Clinton held his headquarters at Albany, and was attached to the northern army, where he rendered very important aid in bringing to a successful issue the great struggle for independence. On retiring from the field of strife, he settled on his estate near Newburgh, Orange County, N. Y., where he lived many years in the enjoyment of the honors he had reaped, filling various civil offices, and highly respected by all who knew him. On his retirement he received the public thanks of his native State and the nation, and he went down to his grave with all his honors clustering thick upon his head. He died on December 22, 1812, in the seventy-fifth year of his age. From “ The American Portrait Gallery."
THE WASHINGTON LETTERS
WASHINGTON TO GENERAL CLINTON, JUNE 25, 1776
Three page folio. From Washington in New York to Clinton at Fort Constitution, giving a vivid picture of the difficulty of fortifying this important post on the Hudson River, and of the paucity of necessary war supplies. This fort was on an island opposite West Point, and thus blocked the way to Albany.
"I observed by the Returns that your regiment is still extremely deficient in Arms, which is a circumstance highly distressing at this time—as I have no prospect of getting any, unless some unforeseen fortunate event should cast up that I know nothing of. I request you to have no dependence on me for a supply, and that you will use every possible method to procure what you want from the country people, or whensoever they can be had by purchasing them.”
WASHINGTON TO GENERAL CLINTON, JUNE 29 AND JULY 1, 1776 • One page folio. In this letter, written from New York only a few days before the Declaration of Independence, Washington informs Clinton at Fort Constitution of the approach of the English fleet under General Howe, and of the necessity of preparing for the possible advance of the English up the Hudson (North) River.
“New York June 29, 1776. “Sir: The Committee inform me that no evidence has appeared against Fletcher Mathews, and desire his papers may be delivered to him, which I would have you comply with, likewise the request of the Committee of Newburgh and New Windsor. I have to inform you of the arrival of about 50 sail this day at the Hook, this is part of a fleet of 130 which left Halifax under General Howe the 9th Inst. Would have you make all possible preparation in case the enemy should have in view to push some of their Frigates up the North River, to give them a proper reception.'
“July ist 130 sail have arrived at the Hook.”
WASHINGTON TO GENERAL CLINTON, SEPTEMBER 12, 1776
One page folio. Both George and James Clinton were stationed in che Highlands and in charge of the forts there, which finally fell before the forces of the English General Clinton on February 6, 1777. The present letter of Washington from New York has to do with these important forts on the Hudson. The difficulty of getting labor and arms is apparent. At the time of the present letter George Clinton was keeping his eye on British movements around New York City, while James was at Fort Montgomery. On p. 336, vol. i, of the “ Clinton Papers," the letter from James to George Clinton is published, giving an account of affairs at the fort, and written on September 8, the date of General Clinton's similar letter to Washington.
“Sir: I have before me your two letters of the 8th and 10th Inst. The first inclosing Returns of the number of men and Ordnance and Artillery Stores at Forts Montgomery and Constitution; the last, copies of two letters from the Convention of the State of New York, by which it appears they had ordered in 600 Militia as a reinforcement to the two posts, and which I hope will put them in a proper State of Defence. I ordered Col'l Knox to provide and forward the different articles wanted by you in the Ordnance Department. ... The Convention having ordered an Armourer with proper tools to be fixed at your posts, I hope what arms are at present out of Repair will soon be made fit for use. We must make every shift with our old arms till we can get better supplied.”
ordered Coloss, and which hothey had ordered in the
WASHINGTON TO GOVERNOR CLINTON, APRIL 26, 1777
Two page quarto. This letter from Headquarters at Morristown was written to George Clinton, who six days previously had been elected Governor of New York State. In the catalogue of the Appleton Collection this was erroneously designated as a letter to James Clinton. The main part of it is printed in Sparks' (vol. iv, p. 398), but the postscript is entirely unpublished. These few lines are of interest in showing Washington's confidence in Clinton's judgment. Frequently we find him asking the more distinguished brother to decide whether certain instructions should be forwarded to James.
conception. Severalment received, places their intet River. A letter
“Dear Sir, I wrote you on the 23d Inst. communicating intelligence lately received respecting the enemy's designs up the North River. A letter from Gen'l. McDougall this moment received, places their intentions beyond the power of misconception. Several Transports have anchored at Dobbs Ferry—and mean, in my opinion, to divert our attention, if possible, from their movements towards the Delaware. At any rate they may attempt to make some incursion into the Country back of this place, and if they can, seize the passes thro' the mountains, thereby aiming to cut off the communication between the army here, and the North River. To frustrate such a dis’gn effectually, I must repeat my desire, that you would post as good a Body of Troops in the Mountains, West of the River, as you can collect and spare from the Garrison—this will serve not only to retain our possession of the passes, but will awe the disaffected & protect our friends.”
“P. S. If your brother's attention is particularly confined to the posts on the River, would it not be attended with greater good if he would take charge of the Troops designed for the passes within mentioned, while you are confined to the Forts. If you think with me, please write to him on this head.”
WASHINGTON TO GOVERNOR CLINTON, JUNE 8, 1777 One page folio, giving instructions regarding the opposition to the advance of the English up the Hudson River, written by Washington, at Headquarters at Middle Brook, to Clinton, at Fort Constitution. Shortly afterward the fort had to be abandoned.
“I have to request that you will keep as large a body of the Militia as you can collect, and have them in as good order as Circumstances will permit, in case Gen'l Howe should Incline up North River,” etc.
WASHINGTON TO GOVERNOR CLINTON, AUGUST 13, 1777
One page folio. This letter from Headquarters in Bucks County refers to the campaign of General Burgoyne, whose ultimate defeat was one of the most cheering events of the early years of the war. Washington refers complimentarily to General Gates, who, on the other hand, seldom lost an opportunity to speak disparagingly of the Commander-inChief. This letter is printed in Sparks, vol. v, p. 28.