New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Winslow to Wentworth, 1781

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Edward Winslow to Governor John Wentworth, 1781

This letter from Edward Winslow to John Wentworth was written in 1781 and can be found in The Winslow Papers, Volume 1, edited by W.O. Raymond, Saint John, N.B., 1901, pages 67-70. In the letter, Winslow argues for the establishment of a new Loyalist regiment to fight against the American Revolution. More than that, however, he discusses the poor progress of the war and the failure of conventional British strategies and command structures. At one point, and in typical Winslow fashion, he says that the command is composed of a “Strainer of Gnats and Swallower of camels” [whatever that meant!]. It is interesting and well worth reading.

First, a few notes:

  1. Edward Winslow (ca. 1746 – 1815) was a colourful lifelong tory from Massachusetts. He became an army officer and, in New Brunswick, a judge and office holder. He was not discreet in expressing himself as can be seen from this letter. On another occasion, he said that office holders in N.B. were a “Pack of heavy ass’d pensioners”. He was also the one who famously said of the new province of N.B. that “by God! we will be the envy of the American states”.
  2. Sir John Wentworth (1737 – 1820) was a native of New Hampshire and the last British Governor of that state. He was, according to Raymond, a good friend and admirer of Edward Winslow.
  3. Reference is made in the letter to the Simsbury mines. Raymond explained that these mines were used as a prison for many Loyalists during the Revolution.

Here it is:

Edward Winslow to Governor John Wentworth


The nature of the present war in America is so peculiar, so different from what British armies have been formerly accustomed to, that experience acquired in other countries avails very little in this. Veterans who served campaigns in Germany and are perfectly acquainted with maneuvering of armies in regular sieges and defences, find themselves novices when engaged against an army like the present, and bold as the assertion may appear I venture to affirm that the British have gained near as much from their observations of the Provincial and American Troops as the latter have acquired from them. I will only mention one – circumstance by way of illustration, which does not in any decree derogate from the honor of the British (God forbid that I should say or write anything that did). When the British Light Infantry began their operations in this country they were almost compact in their movements, regular in their marching and from habit and general instructions they appeared averse to every attempt to screen or cover themselves from danger however imminent. Hence many of them were picked off in all the first skirmishes. It was observed that on all such occasions the enemy placed themselves behind trees and walls, etc., and it was apparently necessary to take them in their own way. In consequence a new word was adopted and the Flank Corps were on subsequent occasions ordered “To Tree” a word of command as well known to them now as any other.

The theoretical part of military business is not so particularly intricate that a gentleman may not acquire a competent knowledge of it in a short time; much of the necessary knowledge of an officer is not what’s generally understood by the term professional, and surely an acquaintance with the country in which he operates, with the temper of its inhabitants, their manners, &c, must be an essential qualification. I have the highest idea of the necessity of discipline and subordination myself but I will not subscribe to the doctrine that it requires a whole life spent in the service to give an officer a just idea of it. Many Provincial officers and very many young officers of the Line are proofs to the contrary. I know that experience is necessary to complete a military character, but that only men who have rose thro’ all the gradations of military rank are fit to be trusted with military commands is an idea which I would hope was originally formed in the head of Sir Wm. [Howe] and would never descend farther than to his immediate successor. I would not detract one iota from the respect due to veterans, but in Heaven’s name when a state is in danger should men of capability, liberal education and extensive knowledge remain unemployed until all the serjeants of the army are provided for? Surely this cannot be prudence or policy. This war has made many good soldiers for the rebels and it has added many good soldiers to the British. The discipline of the Americans is indisputably copied from the British, but the British in turn have in several instances profited by the examples of their enemies.

A General Burgoyne may contend that a regiment of raw recruits headed by inexperienced leaders cannot carry martial enterprises with success, he however ought to acknowledge that substitutes for discipline and experience were found in the American armies encountered by him which more than compensated for the want of those qualities.

Having long since established in my own mind by this kind of reasoning the propriety and expediency of employing the gentlemen of this country, I readily declared my resolution to engage in the provincial service. Till the present time I have seen no fair opening. The anticipations of impediments in the recruiting business, had it not been for the discouraging partiality shewn to particular regiments, would never have discouraged me, but the necessity of contact with men whose ideas of service were different from my own was the obstacle that weighed most in my mind; for till very lately there have been to all the Provincial regiments recommendations of officers which were next to positive orders from the Commander in Chief. The present plan of Upham, Murray and myself is calculated to obviate all my objections. The task of recruiting a regiment is certainly arduous but perseverance in it will always ensure success. The progress which Murray has already made is a proof of this assertion, altho’ he has had difficulties enough to encounter. In one instance a plan as well digested as ever a recruiting officer formed failed merely from the difficulty of obtaining a pass from Head Quarters to bring off the recruits, and 18 men who would have been doing duty as dragoons in the service are now suffering punishment in Simsbury mines. Another attempt of less consequence has failed in the Jerseys thro’ very extraordinary delays – a third is now under consideration and it appears to me is of so much consequence that it must be adopted. There are a sort of men here who with small pretensions affect a knowledge of this country that indulge themselves in very free observations on the nature of the recruiting business. They laugh at the idea of raising a regiment in the present situation of matters.

We are anxious to exert our utmost endeavors to form a Brigade when we receive your consent to command it. I am sensible that in making this request we raise a proportion of difficulties for you, but I please myself with the consideration that the illiberal observations which may be made on giving the rank of Brigadier General may with equal propriety be let loose on the rank of Lieut. Colonel. * * * I venture to assert that were it necessary the signature of almost every man from the Eastern Provinces might be obtained to a request that you should command the proposed corps. I am sure it can need no additional motive but the public service to ensure your exertions. I need not increase this already extravagant epistle to convince you of that. I observed to you that I had not as yet obtained a warrant. I am in no hurry, nor have I the least objection to waiting until Murray’s corps is completed and Upham’s respectable. My situation is not exactly the same with theirs. Murray’s all depends on the success of this business, and Upham (whose character must be given you by others less partial than myself) has at present little else to depend upon. My own appointment being at the Head of a Department is a very different one, and although the present emoluments of it have been screwed down to the last peg by the Strainer of Gnats and Swallower of camels who at present commands, I have less to complain of than my neighbors. I have no reason to suppose that I shall fail in my endeavors to secure appointment as Lieut. Colonel only that I have failed in every attempt that I have made since Sir Henry Clinton commanded here.

It was not till every mark of respect was shewn our first patron and every argument used to induce him to exert his influence that Upham, Murray and myself presumed to solicit for ourselves. To gratify that worthy man [Gen. Timothy Buggies] and to facilitate a plan which was concerted by General Yaughan and himself, and which was afterwards objected to at Head Quarters, we cheerfully engaged with a party of Refugees from Rhode Island, with whom we every day risqued our reputation as well as our lives, presuming that the end of our toils would be an appointment to gratify our ambitions by raising the long talked of brigade. Although our successes were much, beyond our most sanguine expectations, we found ourselves in the same predicament as before. In short it was evident that the General [Ruggles] had from the unpardonable inattention to him and from other causes contracted such a disgust to present men and measures here, that he could neither negotiate with confidence or serve with alacrity, and there was such a mixture of virtue even with his obstinacy that while we deprecated it as unfortunate for ourselves we dared not oppose it.


Written by johnwood1946

October 17, 2012 at 9:23 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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