Lewis, James A. Neptune's Militia: The Frigate South Carolina during the American Revolution, (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1999.)
Letter - "John Henderson to Stacy Potts, January 7, 1783", (Frederick M. Dearborn Collection of Military and Political Americana; Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.)
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, entry for "Flatlands, Brooklyn", (wikipedia.org, last modified - February 19, 2017.)
Normally, whenever the writer of this blog adds additional information which is meant to expand on an earlier post, he usually composes a separate post which takes on the identical title of the previous post with the addition of a "Pt. II" or "Pt. III" or "etc.". This is a continuation or addition to a much earlier post but, under some unusual circumstances. The first post is entitled "'...On Board of One of the Finest and Best Found Ships in the World...': Lieutenant of Marines John Henderson and the Second Cruise of the Frigate South Carolina, December 19-20, 1782 -" and is dated "02/07/2016". A portion of this post focused on a letter written by John Henderson and addressed to a Mr. Stacy Potts of Trenton, NJ who happened to be a Quaker conservative in the community. This letter was lengthy and filled with enthusiasm for the new country that would emerge from the American Revolution and the places these newly-made men would occupy in that new country. But, the second letter, the focus of this specific post, was much shorter in length and much more "straightforward" in its subdued tone and requests. Thus, a second post is required to address this latter piece of correspondence but, the very divergent natures of these two separate letters demand that a post not requiring an additional part be created to fill the place of a "Pt. II". These two separate posts, both related to John Henderson and his relationship with Stacy Potts, are certainly connected but, differ in their time frame and circumstances of John Henderson's life at that specific moment in time. As indicated from the title cited above, this specific post will address the second letter sent from Lieutenant of Marines John Henderson to Mr. Stacy Potts of Trenton, NJ and examine its contents and tone compared to the initial letter written by John Henderson to Stacy Potts from on board the frigate South Carolina and dated December 19, 1782.
The initial letter from John Henderson, Lieutenant of Marines on board the frigate South Carolina, to Mr. Stacy Potts of Trenton, NJ was written and dated December 19, 1782. The frigate South Carolina was off Reedy Island as she was dropping down the Delaware River towards the Atlantic Ocean. Chronologically speaking, the next piece of correspondence to pass from John Henderson to Stacy Potts was drafted on January 7, 1783 in the small Long Island community of Flatlands. John Henderson was on parole as a captured officer from the frigate South Carolina, which had been captured by elements of the British Royal Navy on December 21, 1782. The initial letter touched on several different topics and was quite lengthy. This second letter is much more brief, more concise, and of a much different tone than the first letter. For the sake of clarity as well as due to its brevity, this second letter will be cited in its entirety in this post:
"Flatt Lands Long Island 7th JanY. 1783.
Various reports have circulated and many different Opinions pass'd respecting the manner of the Capture of the South Carolina -- I wish you to suspend your opinion till a full information of Facts shall evince that She was yielded to a very Superior Force. -- The Diomede, the Quebec & Astrea are the names of the British Ships that took us. The first carries 58 guns and 300 men and the two latter 36 guns and 250 men each.
The Officers of the Diomede and Quebec have treated ours with a great deal of Politeness, the former of which I had the Fortune to be put on Board of -- Our Officers who went on Board the Astrea Got a taste of the Prison Ship (on their arrival at York) for 48 hours; but are since all parol'd to this to this Township of about 6 Miles extent. Our situation here at present is rendered as comfortable as we could expect; but as few of us were provided with Cash sufficient to answer the Exigencies an accident of the kind subjects us to; and the State we belong to is so far distant that supplys cannot be soon expected, and opportunities of Conveyance of any private Supplies that might be sent by our Friends in Penna. are so very uncertain & precarious -- our Lodgings and necessaries at so extravagant a rate that if we are continued here amongst a set of avaritious Inhabitants, our Situation must soon become extremely disagreeable --
I would therefore entreat the Favour of your friendly influence with the Commissary of Prisoners to negotiate my Exchange as soon as possible; or if that cannot be accomplish'd with propriety I would be Happy to have my Parole in Pennsylvania, which would save an intolerable expence, which must necessarily be paid here by all Prisoners.
Please to present my Compliments to Mrs. Potts and your good family.
Yours very Affectionately
Mr. Stacy Potts"
(Note: The above cited letter was written by John Henderson to Stacy Potts from the small settlement of "Flatt Lands, Long Island" within the vicinity of British-held New York City. The writer of this blog feels that it is necessary to fill out this post with a brief "scene" description and short history of the settlement of Flatlands.
According to the Wikipedia article, entry for "Flatlands, Brooklyn", page 1, the area eventually comprising the early European settlement was originally occupied by members of the Leni Lenape tribal peoples. It was settled by Europeans in 1623 when Francophone Walloons moved onto the land and established a settlement. Peter Stuyvesant gave it "...the right of local rule..." in 1661 "...as one of the five Dutch Towns on Long Island.". The settlement was originally known as Nieuw Amersfoort, named for the Dutch city of Amesfoort, and was initially established as a farming community on Long Island. According to the Wikipedia article cited above, page 1, "...crops typically grown in the area were beans, corn, marsh hay, squash, potato bean and tobacco. Oysters and clams were also farmed and harvested from Jamaica Bay and the surrouding marshes and bays.". Farming became a serious, large scale pursuit in the community when "...in 1636 Andries Hudde and Wolphert Gerretse bought 15,000 acres of land centered on what is now the intersection of Kings Highway and Flatbush Avenue...".
Again, according to the Wikipedia article cited above, page 1, "...the land-controlling families of Nieuw Amersfoort also kept black slaves to work their farms until the state declared emancipation of all slaves in 1827, after which black laborers took up farming jobs, many times on the farms they worked on as slaves.".
There are many architectural features and references seen in the structures of modern-day Flatlands to the colonial Dutch origins of the settlement. Two of the most prestigious residents of Nieuw Amesfoort - Flatlands were Peter Stuyvesant (1612-1672), the governor of Nieuw Amsterdam, and Steven van Voorhees (1600-1684) a local magistrate and the first Voorhees in America. After the fall of Nieuw Amsterdam to the British in 1664, the name of the settlement on Long Island was changed to Flatlands.)
Again, this first letter from John Henderson to Stacy Potts , which is significantly, but not completely, quoted in the post dated "02/07/2016" is quite different in tone and text. This first letter is very hopeful for the future of the new nation. John Henderson communicates his personal plans for the future and looks forward to making "....a push for Cain - Tuck and pursue my former occupation till a Land Office is opened in Pennsylvania...". It can be inferred from the contextual clues in the letter that in civilian life John Henderson was a land agent and surveyor and intends to take up this occupation once again after the conclusion of the American Revolution. This particular letter is exactly four pages long and crammed full of hopes and dreams for the future as the frigate South Carolina moves down the Delaware River towards her ultimate rendezvous with elements of the Royal Navy. This encounter would change the overall tone and tenor of the next letter from John Henderson to Mr. Stacy Potts that was dated "January 7, 1783" and written form the small Dutch-influenced settlement of Flatlands on Long Island.
This second letter from John Henderson to Mr. Stacy Potts just over one and one-half pages long and is neatly and easily divided into three paragraphs, each of which contains a different message. The first paragraph is the second longest of the overall letter and states clearly the reason for the capture of the frigate South Carolina. Lieutenant of Marines John Henderson seems to brush aside any empty speculations concerning why the frigate was captured in the first place by stating directly and succinctly that the patriot ship-of-war was "...yielded to a very Superior force...". John Henderson attempts to deflect criticism from any perspective as to the loss of the the most heavily gunned patriot ship-of-war in the entire American Revolution. He cites, fairly accurately, the number of guns carried on board each of the British men-of-war as well as the numbers of crew men on board each ship. He clearly states that the frigate was surrendered to a far superior force with the intimation that the frigate South Carolina could have been blasted into oblivion if she had attempted to resist and fight back against the elements of the Royal Navy that pursued her and eventually brought her to bay.
The second paragraph is the longest of the letter and begins with a complimentary nod towards the kindness of the enemy officers, saying that they were treated with "...a great deal of Politeness...". But, John Henderson is also quick to relate that the officers of the captured frigate South Carolina that were taken on board the HMS Astraea were initially placed on board "...the Prison Ship..." and "...Got a taste of..." it for about two days before they were paroled to the same township as the remainder of the officers, which we must infer from the context that all of the officers of the captured frigate South Carolina were sent to Flatlands, Long Island. John Henderson states that he and the other officers are as comfortable as possible but, quickly qualifies this with this situation could quickly alter for the worse, leaving the prisoner-officers in a very precarious position indeed. John Henderson does not elaborate on how the situation could "...become extremely disagreeable..." but, if the prisoner-officers were not capable of paying for independent lodgings they might be thrown back upon depending on the British military authorities for their subsistence, which could possibly mean being reassigned to one of the various prison "hulks" or ships moored in Wallabout Bay, NY for more easier incarceration. John Henderson most certainly did not want this potential situation to come true as evidenced by his reference to the officers carried into New York City on board the HMS Astraea and being placed on board "...the Prison Ship...". There is an ominous overtone to this occurrence in John Henderson's writings and one that certainly could produce fear in the heart of the most stouthearted due to the reputation these prison "hulks" carried as places of disease, hunger, squalor, and unspeakable cruelties.
(Note: A reference back to the post entitled "'Bound for New York City' - Roster of Captive Americans on board the HMS Diomede - December 20, 1782 -" and dated "03/24/2015" does indeed indicate that Lieutenant of Marines John Henderson was one of the two captive marine officers carried on board of this specific British man-of-war into New York City as claimed in his letter to Mr. Stacy Potts of Trenton, NJ. The other captive officer of marines carried into New York City on board the HMS Diomede was also a lieutenant of marines, John Stoy.)
The third and final paragraph of the letter is the shortest and the most direct in its request. John Henderson directly implores Mr. Stacy Potts to effect either his exchange as soon as possible or asks to have his "...Parole of Pennsylvania...". He states that this would "...save an intolerable expense..." which must be paid by the prisoners currently in Flatlands, Long Island. Again, he might be concerned about the future possibility of running out of money and the having to face the unknown and possibly "...extremely disagreeable..." future at that point in time. He closes by requesting that Mr. Stacy Potts extend his best "...compliments to Mrs. Potts and your good family...".
Towards the end of the second paragraph, John Henderson makes a comment about being "...amongst a set of avaritious Inhabitants...". This is the only negative comment contained in the letter that is directed at a specific set or group of people. When captured officers were set on parole, they agreed to remain within a defined set of physical boundaries but, otherwise were completely free to spend their days and time as they saw fit. They could even hunt if they possessed a firearm with which to hunt. But, they were honor bound to their captors not stray beyond those boundaries and to not attempt to escape back to patriot lines. But, these same captured officers had to locate and personally pay for their own accommodations and be able to Financially sustain themselves while they occupied these accommodations. If they were very lucky and could get a message to the patriot state of their residency, the state could easily take it upon herself to support them while they were incarcerated. But, finding their own lodgings in strange and sometimes hostile territory was usually accomplished by approaching the inhabitants of whatever township or village they found themselves in and negotiating for shelter, food and other necessities of life. But, these same "burdened" inhabitants could request or demand whatever amount they felt was fair for taking these strangers into their home for however long was required. The captured officers had to agree to this amount or search elsewhere for a more friendly and accommodating environment. It was frequent for these inhabitants to require what they felt was adequate compensation for the inconvenience of taking in extra mouths to feed. But, the captured officers might feel that the required amount of money was exorbitant and unfair due to the circumstances of the captured officers not having prepared for capture when it happened to them. John Henderson makes direct reference to this in the second paragraph of his letter when he states that "... as few of us were provided with Cash sufficient to answer the Exigencies an accident of the kind subjects us to...". Thus, they were at the mercy of sometimes hostile hosts but surely hosts that were themselves strapped for ready cash or income and, possibly, facing loss of their land and holdings at the end of the war if they still openly supported the British Crown. Many journals and diaries of captured officers, both Crown and patriot, contain stories of their captivities and sojourns among sometimes benign or even friendly hosts or in the midst of hostile and sullen hosts who were constantly suspicious of their unwanted guests.
The writer of this blog does not know the outcome of the letter written by John Henderson to Mr. Stacy Potts of Trenton, NJ. It is not even known if it was ever delivered and reached Mr. Stacy Potts. We can safely assume that if the letter was actually posted by the British that it eventually reached Trenton, NJ and the home of Mr. Stacy Potts. But, the writer of this blog does not know how Mr. Stacy Potts responded to the request by John Henderson for succor in one form or another - either by securing his exchange as soon as possible after his capture or through having his parole issued for Pennsylvania, which means that Lieutenant of Marines John Henderson would have his parole conditions met in Pennsylvania rather than in the strange environs of Flatlands, Long Island. It is recorded that John Henderson survived his captivity with the British and went on to receive a certificate from the state of South Carolina for 95p/1s/1d which is the average amount received by a lieutenant for services rendered during the American Revolution. Later, it is also recorded that a "John Henderson" acted as an administrator for another officer in receiving his land allotment and disposing of it for him. The writer of this blog does not know if this is the same John Henderson or if it might be a different man altogether. But, at any rate this all serves to indicate that John Henderson survived the war's end in 1783 and lived into the years beyond. But, this still does not inform the readership of this blog as to whether or not Lieutenant of Marines John Henderson's letter ever reached its intended destination or had the effect that he desired in early January 1783.