"Tarleton's Legion" by Thomas H. Raddall
For the Mersey Heritage Society:
Digital conversion of text - Craig Chandler
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Special thanks to H. Melanson of Dalhousie University Libraries for additional proofreading.
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(Read before the Nova Scotia Historical Society, April 11, 1947)
Of all the loyalists who fought in the War of the American Revolution none were more famous in their day than those who formed the British Legion, generally known as Tarleton's Legion. By all accounts, British and American, this was the best led, the most enduring, the most dashing, the most relentless, and on the whole the most successful of the Loyalist regiments, and for all these reasons it was the one most feared and hated by rebels. To this day in the Carolinas and Virginia the exploits of Tarleton's Legion are folklore, and American histories still devote much invective to the memory of that celebrated corps: yet here in Nova Scotia, where the surviving remnant of Tarleton's Legion came and settled after the war, and where many of their descendants remain, their story has dropped almost into oblivion.
It is an old and well-proved maxim that in war it is generally the victors who write the history books, and this was especially true of the American Revolution. For the triumphant Americans it was an epic story to be written in epic fashion, with scant regard for the other side of the argument, indeed with scant regard for the truth where the truth diminished in any way the glory of their achievement. For the British on the other hand the upheaval in America was an episode in a struggle waged over half the world, a regrettable episode about which the less said the better; and as a result comparatively little has been said or written on the British side.
It was left to a more enlightened and more discerning generation of American students and writers to ferret out the truth and place it before the American public. Unfortunately the works of Judge Jones, Lorenzo Sabine and their successors have not been made known generally to the American public, and it was left to a painstaking historical-novelist in our own time, Kenneth Roberts, to set forth in brilliant and vehement fashion the story of the Loyalists. It is a tribute to the broad-mindedness of the modern American that Roberts' book had a tremendous sale in the United States and was very widely read, although I believe the American motion picture industry refused to film it - "Oliver Wiswell" was too far contrary to the picture of the American loyalist established by generations of wholly biassed historians, teachers and Fourth of July orators - and to this day most American school-children are taught that the Revolution was a plain struggle between freedom-loving and chivalrous Americans on the one hand, and tyrannous and despicable soldiers of King George on the other, with a group of villains known as Tories playing a traitor's part somewhere between.
The truth of course is that the American Revolution was in fact an American civil war, in which one political party called in British troops, and the other French troops; and the party which called in the French troops won the war and expelled the other from the country. We all know that the American revolutionists had a cause fundamentally just and inevitable; but the methods by which they attained success, and the persecutions, the confiscations and banishment they inflicted upon their fellow-Americans in the process, deserve at least an equal recognition in the eye of history.
I mention this because the Loyalists who filled the ranks of Tarleton's Legion were particularly persecuted and reviled, and American histories to this day speak of them as a crew of savage monsters who for two years ravaged the southern states in the name of the king.
Now the story of British arms in the War of the American Revolution is not an edifying one. In general it is a story of blundering and ineptitude - a war of lost opportunities, as the Loyalists always maintained - but at least one chapter of it will shine forever as an example of British military skill, courage and endurance in the face of great odds. That is the story of Cornwallis and his gallant little army in the South. Tarleton's Legion formed part of that army - was in fact its spearhead in every attack, the rearguard in every retreat, and throughout the campaign the eyes and ears of Cornwallis himself.
The history of Tarleton's Legion begins in the gloomy summer of 1778. The great British campaign in the north, so grandly conceived, so miserably executed, had ended the previous autumn in the surrender of Burgoyne's army at Saratoga. France, after long supplying the rebels with arms and stores in secret, had come into the open and declared war. There was every prospect that Spain would follow suit, as indeed she did.
In the face of all this, the new British commander in America, Sir Henry Clinton, had received orders to abandon Philadelphia and withdraw to the vicinity of New York, and this he had done. And so, in July 1778, a Loyalist corps called the Queen's Rangers found itself camped upon the Harlem River. The regiment was commanded by a young English officer aged 26, John Graves Simcoe - afterwards a famous lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe had determined to train and adapt his corps to American conditions. He chose a uniform of green, which would blend well with the landscape, in contrast with the red coats of the British regulars, which made them perfect targets and betrayed every movement. He made his Rangers a unit of all arms - cavalry, infantry and artillery - a complete striking force in itself, and he trained these component units to work with each other under all sorts of conditions. The cavalry were exercised in moving through woods. In the open the infantry learned to run with the cavalry, holding on to the horses' manes, and on the road they were trained in a mile-devouring quick step. Apart from the cavalry troops, the infantry were divided into eight battalion companies, a grenadier company, a light company, and one Highland company with the national dress and a piper.
In the camp on Harlem River, and watching all this, was a young English officer named Banastre Tarleton. He was 24, the son of a merchant in Liverpool, England. He had been a student at Oxford intending for the law when the war broke out in America, and he had hastened overseas in December 1775 as a volunteer in the train of Lord Cornwallis. An ardent huntsman at home, he was a daring horseman and soon had a commission in the British cavalry. With Cornwallis he had witnessed the whole series of blunders by which the rebel armies escaped destruction on Long Island, in the Hudson valley and elsewhere, and he was impressed with the fact that the Royal cause in America was being lost through the rigid European training of the British troops, and by an amazing lack of energy and decision in the command.
Now, decision and energy were qualities with which young Tarleton was charged to his fingertips, and in Simcoe he beheld a young man similarly charged, and with some first-rate ideas about the training and handling of light forces in America. Simcoe on the other hand recognized in the slim and ardent Tarleton a kindred spirit, and cast about for a way to use him. He did not have to look far. In the Harlem River camp, and attached to the Queen's Rangers, were several small groups of Pennsylvania loyalists, all mounted, including the Pennsylvania Light Dragoons commanded by Richard Hovenden and Jacob James, and the Bucks County Light Dragoons commanded by Thomas Sandford. Also there was a corps of Scottish Loyalists raised originally by Captain Sutherland, one of Clinton's aides-de-camp, and known as the Caledonia Volunteers.
Simcoe combined these units under the command of Banastre Tarleton, calling the combined force The British Legion, which remained the official name of the corps; but it soon became known as Tarleton's Legion and so it was throughout the war.
Simcoe's post at King's Bridge on the Harlem River was an exposed one, with Washington's army encamped at White Plains not far away, and there was plenty of chance for action. Tarleton's first adventure in his new command was in August 1778 when the Queen's Rangers and his Legion penetrated several miles through the American lines at night, captured the guard at Mamaroneck, together with forty horses and a number of American commissaries, and returned without loss to the camp.
Soon after this a war party of Stockbridge Indians came up to join the Americans and promptly attacked a Ranger patrol near King's Bridge. Simcoe as promptly moved his infantry in support and sent Tarleton around the flank with the cavalry. Simcoe was wounded early in the fight but remained in the field until his infantry succeeded in driving the Indians from their cover, when Tarleton charged amongst and through them with his light dragoons. Forty of the Indians were killed or wounded, including the chief Nimham, and the rest were so demoralised by the affair that most of them gave up the notion of fighting for the rebels and went home.
Another successful affair in which Simcoe and Tarleton combined was an attack on Colonel Gist and his light corps of Americans near Yonkers. Gist got away by the skin of his teeth, but one of his patrols was captured and his camp destroyed. Soon after this Washington withdrew from White Plains with his army. Both sides were seeking winter quarters, and Simcoe and Tarleton, after some weeks encamped between the Bronx River and Chester Creek, were ordered into winter quarters on Long Island.
In the meantime there had appeared another young Englishman seeking adventure and a chance to distinguish himself in America. Lord William Cathcart was 23. He had ability and what was more important in those days, influence. He had himself appointed Colonel of the British Legion as soon as it was formed, although he did not serve with it in the field - a common custom of those peculiar times. And so on Long Island, at Tarleton's urging and with Cathcart's influence, the Legion was enlarged and modelled upon that of Simcoe's Rangers, even to the company of Highlanders and later on the battery of flying artillery. Recruited to full strength it mustered a total of 606 officers and men, grouped in 5 companies of infantry and 6 companies of dragoons. The chosen uniform was much like that of Simcoe's, consisting of a short green jacket with a black roll collar, white buckskin breeches, with black riding boots for the cavalry or long black gaiters for the infantry. The headgear was a black leather cap, hard and polished, and looking like a small round iron pot, with a glazed leather peak in front. (Tarleton's portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, now hanging in the Governor's Mansion at Richmond, Virginia, shows him wearing a large bunch of black plumes on his helmet, and possibly this was general amongst the officers.) The dragoons were armed with sabre and pistol, the infantry carried a light musket with the usual cross-belts holding bayonet and cartridge-box.
Lord Cathcart never actually served in the field with the Legion, as far as I can discover, although he retained his colonelcy and presumably the pay that went with it, until the end. He figures chiefly in the war as an A.D.C. to Sir Henry Clinton and quartermaster general to the forces, and went on later to a distinguished military career in Europe and as British ambassador to Russia. Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton was the Legion's first and only field commander from the beginning to the end.
As the British forces went into winter quarters in the autumn of 1778, Sir Henry Clinton began to consider the possibilities of a campaign in Georgia and Carolina, where there was no cold weather to hinder movement, where a large portion of the population was known to be loyal, and where a strong diversion might tempt Washington to divide his army. The British troops could be moved easily back and forth by sea, whilst the American regulars would have to march the whole way south by the very poor roads of the country.
Late in 1778 Clinton sent a force south under Colonel Archibald Campbell, which captured Savannah, Georgia, on December 9th. Included in Campbell's troops were the infantry companies of the Tarleton's Legion, under Major the Hon. George Cochrane. The Legion cavalry was left in New York with Tarleton.
With the appearance of a British force in Georgia, the loyalists of the south immediately came forth for the king, and had Clinton followed up his move in force all would have gone well. But the vacillating Clinton changed his mind and did nothing further for a year! What happened to the poorly armed and ill-led loyalists of Georgia and the Carolinas in the meantime was black tragedy, and when Clinton did move south in force at last the damage was done, most of the leading loyalists were dead or in prison or banished, and the bulk of the population, at first indifferent to the rebel cause, were now convinced of its ultimate success.
It was not until the end of 1779 that Clinton with a strong force left New York for the south. Tarleton and his Legion cavalry embarked on the day after Christmas. Cornwallis was in immediate command of the army, and the sea misfortunes which were to shadow and finally to ruin his enterprise began at once with a terrific storm, which scattered the fleet and sank several of the ships. All the cavalry horses were lost, and a ship laden with heavy artillery destined for the siege of Charleston went down with every gun.
There were long delays at the rendezvous, Savannah, and it was February, 1780, when the army finally disembarked in South Carolina at a point thirty miles from Charleston. Tarleton with his customary energy set about the remounting of his cavalry, gathering horses by purchase, by requisition, and not least by actual capture from mounted rebel troops operating in the vicinity. It was not long before his dragoons were re-equipped. At Savannah the corps had picked up its infantry companies under Major Cochrane, and now it entered upon the career it was to follow throughout the long campaign, that of spearhead to the army of Lord Cornwallis.
The numbers of Tarleton's Legion varied with the dispositions of Cornwallis and the fortunes of war. For a considerable period Clinton attached to Tarleton one of his finest regiments, the 17th Dragoons, who fought as part of the Legion. The 71st Highlanders also were attached to the Legion for a great part of the campaign. At times, swelled by the influx of Loyalist recruits from South and North Carolina, the Legion itself numbered close on 2,000. At other times, decimated by battle and by fever in the unhealthy river country of the South, it mustered no more than 150 men, horse and foot. The role it had to play entailed heavy losses from the start, and at the battle of Camden quite early in the campaign, the Legion mustered just over 300.
Charleston surrendered on May 11th, 1780, with its entire rebel garrison of 6,000, and the news was received in England and in royalist New York with the utmost rejoicing. There was a general impression that the Loyalists of Carolina, known to be numerous, could and would flock now to the King's colours and raise a mighty storm on the southern flank of the rebellion. Clinton seems to have shared this impression, for within a month he returned to New York with a large part of the army, leaving Cornwallis with 4,000 regulars and about 2,000 Loyalist troops to perform a miracle.
This optimism was utterly unjustified. The Loyalist districts in the Carolinas in most cases were cut off from the coast by districts populated with ardent rebels, while behind them lay a mountain region full of wild frontiersmen, bred to warfare from birth, well armed and frequently well mounted, and possessed of a hatred for the down-country planters that went back to old grievances and jealousies having nothing to do with the British allegiance. Add to this the fact that the militia organisation in the southern provinces had been in the hands of the rebels from the first, and you will see why the Carolina loyalists were doomed.
Some of those in South Carolina were able to withdraw to the protection of Cornwallis' army or to small armed posts like Ninety Six and Hanging Rock which Cornwallis established for their defence. Those in North Carolina had no such opportunity. Untrained, badly led, in many cases utterly unarmed, their attempts to gather and march to Cornwallis resulted in massacre and destruction, and their families were visited by the rebels with a savage cruelty that reads like one of the darkest chapters of Parkman.
Those desperate and embittered Loyalists who did manage to escape the slaughter and join the ranks of Tarleton's Legion or some other Loyalist corps under Cornwallis were not inclined to be gentle when an opportunity for revenge presented itself. That is why American histories to this day dwell heavily on the ruthlessness of Tarleton's Legion in particular. Like all stories of human conflict the matter has two sides. The state of affairs in North Carolina is best summed up in a letter written from the American general Greene's headquarters at Deep River, not far from the scene of a hideous massacre of Scots loyalists at Altamahaw Ford on their way to join Tarleton's Legion. Dated March 30, 1781, it says in part, "Nothing but blood and slaughter has prevailed amongst the Whigs and Tories, and their inveteracy against each other must if it continues depopulate this part of the country."
The task confronting Cornwallis was enough to break any general's heart. With his 6,000 troops and two or three batteries of field artillery he was expected to hold Georgia, stamp out the fiery rebel element in South Carolina, and extend protection and assistance to the loyalists of North Carolina - a total area larger than the whole of the Maritime Provinces of Canada. The roads were merely wagon tracks, choked with dust in the burning summer heat and rivers of mud in the rains. The whole country was veined with rivers but there were few or no bridges. Where the streams were shallow the troops waded across; where they were deep it was necessary to gather boats, rafts and canoes to ferry the army to the other side. The increasing length and difficulty of these communications as his troops pushed inland compelled Cornwallis to rely for supplies and reinforcements upon the country itself - a country in which the Loyalists had been murdered or carried off, and their plantations ravaged and stripped by marauding rebel forces for the past five years, and where the rebel sympathizers used every wile to hide or remove their own cattle and grain before every British approach. Cornwallis could look for small help from Clinton at New York in any case. His real base was in Britain, on the other side of the Atlantic, with the constant threat of a French fleet somewhere between.
In the presence of these physical difficulties he was confronted by a swarm of rebel troops. They were of three kinds. There were bands of irregulars, horse and foot, thoroughly familiar with the country and led by expert guerillas like Morgan, Marion and Sumter. There were State troops raised and equipped by the rebel legislatures of South and North Carolina. And there was an increasing stream of Continental regulars moving down from Virginia and Maryland, well supplied with arms and stores, and led by generals experienced in the campaigns in the north.
Cornwallis rightly decided that his only hope lay in keeping his small force mobile and compact, moving fast and striking hard to prevent a combination of his enemies, depending entirely on his own skill and energy and the sheer fighting power of his troops. And so began a series of terrific marches and desperate encounters which lasted altogether sixteen months, and carried Cornwallis and his gallant men from Charleston to the Chesapeake by a route of more than 1300 miles, fighting nearly all the way.
The rebel forces were always superior in number, were better supplied and often better equipped. Yet almost without exception they were defeated whenever Cornwallis, Rawdon or Tarleton managed to catch up with them. The rebels changed their command but it made no difference. Gates, the conqueror of Burgoyne, came down to add to his reputation, was utterly defeated at Camden and "ran 80 miles in a day." He was superseded by Nathaniel Greene, the general who stood next to Washington in the estimation of the rebels; but Greene could do no better, though he managed to avoid destruction, retreating all the way from South Carolina to the far side of Virginia, and not daring to return south until Cornwallis had been cut off and safely shut up in Yorktown by Washington and Lafayette.
It is beyond the purpose of this paper to go into the full story of that great campaign. Suffice it to say that Tarleton's Legion as the advance guard of the British army frequently fought whole battles by themselves, and took a prominent part in all. There were brilliant little affairs like Tarleton's victory over Sumter at Catawba Ford, when a charge by less than 200 Legion dragoons routed Sumter's whole force and captured all his baggage and artillery and 1,000 stand of arms; and the smart action at Waxhaw on the border of the two Carolinas, where Tarleton's Legion after a march of 105 miles in 54 hours fell upon and destroyed a Virginian force under Buford which considerably out-numbered themselves.
On the other hand there was the utter rout at Cowpens where the Legion was thrust forward too boldly and cut to pieces by Morgan and his Virginians. There were stiff engagements like the fight at Guildford Courthouse, where Cornwallis gained a costly victory and Tarleton himself was wounded. And all along the road, apart from the continual skirmishes, there were the weary and exacting duties of the advance guard - scouting and reporting, making contact with friendly informants, gathering boats and rafts for the river crossings, and always and above all foraging, rounding up cattle and horses, gathering corn, often standing over a rebel miller at sabre point to see the grain made into meal and held for the army coining up behind.
The common ration was corn pone and hominy, relieved sometimes with fresh pork or beef; but often it was no more than a pocketful of peaches plucked in some wayside orchard. The hard-ridden Legion horses perished by scores and had to be replaced with poor screws picked up in the countryside or captured from rebel forces. At the end of that long fighting trek to the Chesapeake, the Legion infantry were marching well-nigh barefoot and the whole corps was in rags, its equipment generally worn out.
In the course of the army's march the Legion made long raids to right and left, destroying supplies that might be useful to the rebel forces hanging on the flanks or coming up cautiously behind. Here again we find American historians condemning Tarleton's Legion for inhumanity, yet it was the common usage of war, practiced with rigor in the Loyalist districts by every rebel force, and carried out here under the direct orders of Cornwallis, a leader noted for his humanity. Of course we may surmise that there were unsavory incidents with a force like this, including in its ranks all sorts and conditions of homeless and embittered men, ragged and hungry, sent foraging in small parties not always under the eye of an officer; indeed Tarleton records such an incident, but if anything it proves the rigid discipline of his corps and of the army.
It happened soon after the advance guard crossed the Roanoke River in Virginia. The Legion was overtaken on the road by a group of local people accompanied by Cornwallis himself, with six dragoons of his guard. The country folk had a tale of rape and robbery to tell. Tarleton promptly ordered his troops to dismount and line up, so that the witnesses could pick out - these are Tarleton's own words - "the villains who committed (these) atrocious outrages." A sergeant and a dragoon were accused, taken to Halifax, Virginia, tried by court-martial and condemned to death. Let me quote Tarleton again - "The immediate infliction of the sentence exhibited to the army and manifested to the country the discipline and justice of the British general." He might well have added, "and of the British Legion."
On the march through Virginia there were a number of raids and skirmishes which show that the Legion retained its dash and spirit in spite of all the hardships of the route. Near the Mattapony River the mere threat of Tarleton and his dragoons forced Lafayette and his retreating army of Americans to stand to arms, and a Legion patrol in the rebel rear captured Lafayette's despatches, which Tarleton read with interest and profit. James Maxwell, of the Legion's "flying artillery", who afterwards settled at Saint Stephen, N. B., used to relate how Lafayette himself was chased for six miles and only escaped capture by the grace of a good horse. (Recorded by W. O. Raymond.)
When the army reached the James River, Tarleton was detached on a raid right across the state of Virginia, covering 400 miles in 15 days in the mid-summer heat. At Warwick Courthouse on another occasion Tarleton and a patrol of his dragoons attacked and routed 400 rebel militia. Indeed the fighting reputation of Tarleton's Legion was such that only Continental regulars would face him in the open field, and whole regiments of militia often fled at the mere mention of his name.
Perhaps his most famous exploit occurred on June 1st, 1781, when he turned away from the army with 250 of his troopers under orders from Cornwallis to "break up the Assembly at Charlotteville". (The Virginia legislature and other prominent rebels had left Richmond on the approach of the British and fled to Charlottesville, in the foothills of the mountains, where Virginia's famous rebel governor Thomas Jefferson lived on his equally famous estate, Montecello.) Tarleton and his troopers covered 70 miles in 24 hours, stopping twice to rest their horses and once to destroy a rebel wagon train on the road. Just as day was breaking they burst out of the dawn, scattered the town's garrison (the rebel brigadier-general Scott was one of the casualties) and seized seven members of the Virginia Assembly, a member of the Continental Congress, and several others of the most prominent rebels of Virginia. In fact they nearly caught the author of the Declaration of Independence himself; but Jefferson, watching from his hilltop home, saw the approach of the dragoons and fled out the back way, or as Tarleton drily put it, "provided for his personal liberty by a precipitate retreat."
In Charlottesville Tarleton's little troop found a great quantity of rebel army stores, including 1,000 new muskets, over 400 barrels of gunpowder, and several hogsheads of tobacco, all of which they destroyed, together with the records of the rebel government. They discovered also - and released - twenty British soldiers, survivors of Burgoyne's army, that famous "lost army" of Saratoga which, in defiance of the surrender terms, the rebels had spirited away into the backwoods and condemned to hard labor and ill nourishment, all behind a wall of secrecy, that nowadays reminds us of a German concentration camp.
On reaching Norfolk, Virginia, towards the end of July, 1781 the army of Cornwallis at last made contact with the British fleet and storeships and received desperately needed supplies and equipment. Tarleton states (History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, page 360) "At this period the British Legion received new clothing and appointments which were soon properly fitted, and for the first time that corps was properly equipped."
But the end of the long campaign, if not the war, was fast approaching now. Fever and battle and the long marches on insufficient rations had taken their toll of Cornwallis' little army. Of the devoted troops who started out with him on that terrific march from South Carolina only 1500 reached the Chesapeake. The reinforcements he found there were troops sent down by Clinton to raid Virginia from the sea, few of them with real battle experience, none to compare with his hard-bitten veterans from the south. And now the long-standing and serious differences between Cornwallis and Clinton came to a head. Cornwallis had marched north with a desperate resolve to strike at rebel Virginia, the chief source of supplies and men for his swarming enemies in Carolina. Clinton had never consented to the move, and he sat at New York now vacillating between his obvious duty - which was to support Cornwallis with the utmost vigor - and his obvious inclination to sit tight and let Cornwallis take the consequences of his enterprise.
Between duty and inclination Clinton did too little, too late, arguing that he must defend New York against Washington's army at all costs. The result was inevitable. The French fleet appeared in the Chesapeake, a powerful French army was landed, and Washington slipped down from New York with his army of Americans. Between them they had men enough and cannon enough to blow Cornwallis' army and their miserable Yorktown defences off the face of the earth.
In this crisis Cornwallis formed a desperate resolve. He sent Tarleton's Legion and other picked troops across the river to Gloucester, ready to hack a way out for him, and prepared to follow with the rest. Tarleton set about exploring the enemy on that side. One of his patrols encountered a squadron of French lancers and in the ensuing skirmish Tarleton was knocked off his horse and nearly captured. It was perhaps the narrowest of his many escapes. But he satisfied himself that the movement had a reasonable chance of success. In his history, Tarleton sets forth the reason why Cornwallis might have fought his way out of the Yorktown trap by way of Gloucester and succeeded in joining Clinton or even making his way back to South Carolina by the interior of the country.
But it was not to be. At a critical phase of the operation a furious storm prevented all movement across the mile-wide river and in Tarleton's words, "thus expired the last hope of the British army." On October 17th, 1781, Cornwallis sent out a flag and proposed terms of surrender. One of the last casualties of the battle was Major the Hon. Charles Cochrane, who had so long and ably commanded the Legion infantry, killed by a shell while acting as A.D.C. to Cornwallis in Yorktown.
Having in mind the hatred of the rebels for all loyalist troops, and especially for Simcoe's Rangers and Tarleton's Legion, Cornwallis sought in his terms of surrender to provide for their protection. The tenth article of his proposed capitulation provided that "Natives or inhabitants of different parts of this country, at present in York or Gloucester, are not to be punished on account of having joined the British army." To this Washington ominously replied, "This article cannot be assented to, being altogether of civil resort." In other words the Loyalist troops were not to be treated as soldiers, but as civilians taken in arms.
But there remained a loophole. Under the terms of surrender Cornwallis had demanded, and was permitted, to send the Bonetta sloop-of-war to New York with his despatches and with "Such soldiers as he may think proper to send." What followed is obscure. We know that a considerable number of Simcoe's Rangers and Tarleton's Legion escaped from Yorktown in the Bonetta and arrived safely at New York. But how many were taken prisoner? Washington's official return of the British troops surrendered at Yorktown, "taken from the original muster rolls", shows 241 officers and men of the British Legion, including a lieutenant-colonel, who was certainly Tarleton himself and who definitely did not fall into American hands.
I can find no document throwing light on this obscure passage in the career of the Legion, but the experience of its fellow Loyalist unit, Simcoe's Rangers, in the same situation gives us more than a hint. Simcoe's account makes clear that some of his Rangers were allowed to depart in the Bonetta unexamined under the terms of the capitulation. Some of his men had been enrolled in the state militia before or after the outbreak of hostilities and therefore in the rebel view were deserters from the American army. Undoubtedly there were others, as in all the Loyalist regiments, who had actually served in arms with the rebels and later changed their opinions and their allegiance. Probably these were the men who were smuggled out in the Bonetta, indeed Hannay states it for a fact.
Of those who remained in Yorktown, Simcoe himself declares, "Many of the soldiers ... were seized as deserters from Washington's army; several enlisted in it to facilitate their escape, and being caught in the attempt were executed; a greater number got safe to New York, and had the war continued there was little doubt but the corps would have been re-assembled in detail. The Rangers were so daring and active in their attempts to escape that latterly they were confined to gaol." It is safe to assume that this was true also of Tarleton's men, for one thing is certain - a substantial part of the Legion reached New York and continued its existence there as a corps on the army establishment.
And what of their women and children all this time? It was customary in the British forces to carry the soldiers' families in the baggage train. They were an encumbrance but they did the regimental washing and most of the cooking, took care of the sick and wounded, in fact made themselves useful in a dozen ways and so constituted. in their day the equivalent of our modern WAC's and army nurses. The men of Tarleton's Legion, many of them recruited in Carolina, undoubtedly carried their families along with them. (See Tarleton's despatch to Cornwallis, January 4, 1781,) But after the army crossed into North Carolina, Cornwallis cut his baggage train to a minimum, and on most of the march through North Carolina and Virginia the troops had little but what they carried in their haversacks and saddle-bags. Presumably the regiment's women and children were sent back with the heavy baggage.
In that case they must have remained in South Carolina, gradually moving down to Charleston as Lord Rawdon's small garrison withdrew before the swarming rebel forces. When the British finally abandoned Charleston late in 1782 we assume that the women and children of the Legion removed with the others to New York, and there rejoined the husbands or such of the husbands as had survived the battles and hardships of that tremendous march to the Chesapeake.
All must have had bitter and heroic tales to tell. From the despatches of Tarleton and Cornwallis we know something of the perils and hardships of the baggage train. We can picture the women and children huddled in the canvas-tilted wagons, lurching along the miserable southern roads behind an army that was always on the move, living on the meagre rations of the commissariat, clad in the rags of clothing they had saved from their own abandoned homes, sleeping in or beneath the wagons at each night halt. We know more than a little of their perils, too, for the despatches mention again and again the dangers of the baggage train, beset by rebel raiders in the British rear, and a target for every skulking rebel sympathizer with a musket.
Soon after the surrender at Yorktown, Tarleton went back to England. With him went Major the Hon. George Hanger, fourth baron Coleraine, who had been second-in-command of the Legion Cavalry since May, 1780. In England, later, Tarleton wrote his "History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781", a copy of which is in the Legislative Library, Halifax, N. S., at the present time. In it Tarleton set forth objectively, and in detail, the story of the southern campaign, quoting in full the despatches between Cornwallis and himself, and frequently the despatches of the opposing American generals - documents captured in the field or copied after the war from American records.
At the end of each phase of the campaign Tarleton discusses the various decisions and movements, pointing out what he considers mistakes, British or American. To a student of war these chapters are of the highest interest, for they were written by the finest commander of light forces of his day. But in assessing them one must take into account Tarleton's youth, his impetuous nature, his passionate belief that the war could have been won. Although the relations between himself and Cornwallis had been cordial, and their cooperation in the field a model, Tarleton did not hesitate in these summaries to criticise his former commander's judgement where it differed from his own, and this resulted in an acrimonious reply from Cornwallis.
Wrath was aroused in another quarter. One Mackenzie, a junior officer of the 71st Regiment, which had been attached to the Legion during a great part of the campaign, subsequently published his "Strictures on Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton's History". In it one detects the inevitable contempt of the regular for the temporary soldier. Mackenzie's chief complaint is that in his history Tarleton did not give sufficient credit for the work done by other officers, and that he was more concerned over the loss of horses in his cavalry than he was in the deaths of officers and men in the attached units. A careful study of Tarleton's book finds little support for Mackenzie's charges, and he betrays the natural jealousy of the regular when he taunts Tarleton "with a professional experience so limited as scarcely to have exceeded the duration of a butterfly's existence."
Mackenzie's "Strictures" were answered in turn by Major George Hanger in a booklet entitled "An Address to the Army". Hanger's language is horsy, as befits the late second-in-command of Tarleton's cavalry, and he dismisses the "butterfly" taunt with a reference to "certain gnats which lodge themselves in the posteriors of the finest horses, which do not however prevent them from running."
Tarleton retained his connection with the army after the war, dividing his time between a military career, a political career, and the career of a Regency buck. Between these three stools he fell into mediocrity. As a soldier he held commands in Britain and Ireland, was promoted to major-general in 1794 and in 1812 to general; but in the deadly routine of home garrisons his talents were wasted and atrophied. As a politician he sat as M.P. for Liverpool (with the exception of one year) from 1790 to 1812, and for faithful service to his party was made a baronet in 1815. As a buck he is said to have competed with the Prince of Wales (afterwards George the Fourth) for the favors of the famous Mrs. Robinson. In none of this did he fulfil the promise he showed as a fighting man in America. Tarleton died without issue in 1833, after wasting his talents for half a century.
But after 1781 we are more concerned with the Legion than the man whose name it bore. During the war New York had become the chief refuge and assembly point of Loyalists made homeless by the rebellion, all facing bitter persecution at the hands of the rebels if and when the British forces finally withdrew. The news of Yorktown was the final blow. Many sailed for Nova Scotia in the spring and summer of 1782, and by the spring of '83 it was an exodus. Probably some of Tarleton's Legion withdrew from the regiment at this time and went to Nova Scotia or elsewhere with the refugee civilians. Some of the Loyalist regiments, held inactive at New York since '81, literally melted away.
But at least 150 officers and men remained with the corps and left New York as a unit when the troops, regular and loyalist, began to withdraw in September. Tarleton's Legion and their women and children embarked about September 15th, and had a rough passage to Nova Scotia in the teeth of the easterly and north-easterly winds prevailing at that time. (See Perkins' Diary and Benjamin Marston's Journal for weather entries, Perkins adds ominously on Sep. 30th, 1783, "Very cold for the Season.")
The Legion transports arrived at Shelburne with the rest of the troops, mostly regulars, consigned to that place, on or after September 23rd. At Shelburne they found a desperate situation, a raw-new town in the edge of the forest, swarming with 10,000 refugees, most of them still without a decent roof over their heads, and all clamoring for the attention of the commissaries and surveyors. The weather had turned cold, and there was a Nova Scotia winter to be faced. As a temporary refuge Shelburne offered little to the late-coming troops. As a permanent location it was impossible, because the best of the land had been taken up months before by the refugee civilians; indeed, the government surveyors, Marston and Morris, at their wits' end to find space for the growing mob of claimants, had adopted the desperate expedient of laying out "farms" in the wilderness along a projected road across country to Annapolis.
Faced with a choice of evils, some of Tarleton's Legion disembarked at Shelburne, and in the following summer we find 24 of them, with 15 women and children, included in General Campbell's muster of the Shelburne settlers. But the rest of the corps sought something better, a place of their own, where they could settle as a group and stick together in peace as they had in war. On October 5th and 6th, the government surveyors, Marston and Morris, dined together aboard H.M.S. Cyclops in Shelburne harbor, and on the 7th Morris set out in a boat for Port Mouton, 40 miles to the eastward. They or some higher authority had made a wild decision. Tarleton's Legion was to be alloted lands at Port Mouton and to be dumped ashore there forthwith, men, women and children, to get themselves housed as best they could.
The remnant of the corps followed close on Morris' heels; for on October 10th, 1783, we find Simeon Perkins of Liverpool recording in his diary, "A ship with part of the English Legion is arrived at Port Mutton."
Now let us do what the authorities failed to do back in 1783 - take a good look at Port Mouton - which Perkins called "Port Mutton" and the modern inhabitant pronounces "Port Matoon". It is a sandy bay about six miles wide and reaching about four miles into the land. There is some shelter inside the islands at the mouth but in general the bay is exposed to the easterly gales which are so frequent and so fatal on the Nova Scotia coast.
The shore of the bay is rock-bound, with alternative stretches of sand beach and in some places acres of gleaming white sand dunes. For at least half a mile behind the shore the land is undulating and covered with scrub spruce and poplar and wire birch, as it undoubtedly was in 1783 (see Perkins' Diary, July 5, 1786) for the soil is thin and the surface littered with granite and whinstone rocks. Several streams flow into it, none of any size except a small river flowing into the north-west corner of the bay, which the local inhabitants in 1783 knew as the Great River, ironically, to distinguish it from the others. This stream is almost closed by a sand-bar at its mouth, so that only small boats can pass up to the falls, half a mile above, and a ship of any size must lie at least a mile off-shore completely exposed to gales from the south and east.
There is another small inlet at the westerly corner of the bay, still known as Jones Creek, after one of the Legion settlers. This creek is now sandy and shallow but it was quite deep as late as the 1860's, when the Campbell firm built and launched several large square-rigged vessels there. Opposite the point where Jones Creek opens into Port Mouton bay there is a small stream known as "the dike", where Stewart's Lake and the Mill Brook discharge their waters into the sea. In 1783 half a dozen fishermen (Gamaliel Stewart, Robert McClarn et al) lived at the mouth of "the Dike", subsisting chiefly on fish, wild fowl and venison. These and a few Indians were the only inhabitants.
Had His Majesty's deputy surveyor, young William Morris, consulted these people he would have learned that the place was totally unfit to shelter or support a host of strangers, many of whom were from the rich soil and warm climate of Carolina. But evidently he did not, or perhaps he thought it was none of his business. There were charts of the coast but the hinterland had never been surveyed, and I suspect that the whole project of the Legion settlement had been born over an inaccurate map in the gunroom or the "great cabin" of H.M.S. Cyclops in Shelburne harbor.
At any rate, Morris hurried ashore from the little sloop Gig and busied himself for the next two weeks in laying out a most ambitious township. It was rectangular, with a 4-mile frontage on Port Mouton bay, and extending ten miles up the "Great River" into the wilderness. On paper it looked perfect and no doubt it gave the Surveyor-General at Halifax a good deal of satisfaction. In the year 1828 a surveyor named Whitman Freeman ran out Morris' original lines on the ground and made a map of his township. It is a beautiful thing, with the timber-land up the river laid out in narrow 100-acre strips, each marked with the soldier grantee's name, and the town itself neatly plotted at the south-west corner, on the slope facing Jones Creek.
William's brother surveyor, Charles Morris Jr., had spent two days in the nearby town of Liverpool in September apparently studying the way in which the New England pioneers had laid it out, for the town-site on the shore of Port Mouton followed much the same principles. William laid out "water lots" (i. e. for wharves and warehouses) stretching back 150 yards from the shore of Jones Creek; above these he placed the town itself, half a mile long, with three parallel streets along the slope and three lanes running down to the water. Behind the town he laid off a rectangular common, and on the south-west side a number of "sea-lots" running down to the shore, to be used for the drying of fish. All this is worthy of note because Tarleton's Legion did build their town on Morris' site and on the plan he had laid down; and the chosen name for it was Guysborough, in honor of Sir Guy Carleton, the wise and humane commander of the forces at the evacuation of New York.
A grateful country lost no time in discharging these gallant men from its service. On the very day that Perkins noted a transport arriving in Port Mouton the soldiers of the Legion were paid off and given their discharge papers. One of those discharge papers, that of Sergeant Neil Campbell of the British Legion infantry, is still a prized possession of his descendant, Mr. Samuel Campbell of Port Mouton. It is an interesting document, a printed form 8 inches by 12 ½ inches, dated at "Guysborough, Nova Scotia, October 10, 1783," and signed by Donald McPherson "Captain commanding at the time of disbanding." It is sealed with "the seal of the regiment" - possibly one of McPherson's worn brass buttons, for the seal in the wax is about that size and shape, and the device is indistinguishable. It is further signed by "Neil Campbell his mark" to acknowledge receipt of "all just demands from my Colonel and Captain" and of fourteen days' pay as a sort of discharge bonus. As Campbell was a sergeant his war gratuity for six years' hard service thus was fourteen shillings. A private at sixpence a day was rewarded with seven shillings.
When held to the light the paper reveals a large watermark, an oval medallion surmounted by a crown and containing a figure of Britannia, seated in the usual manner but grasping in her left hand, not a trident but a spear, and holding forth in her right hand what looks suspiciously like a bunch of wilted flowers. If so it was sadly symbolic to the men who had carried her spear so long and so valiantly in America. One hopes that none of them examined his certificate too carefully in the light of the days to come.
This final disbursement to the Legion did not cost Britannia much. Battle, disease, the heat and dust of the long marches had taken their toll of the regiment. Of the 606 officers and men on the muster roll in 1778, and the hundreds of others who joined its ranks in Carolina, only 241 remained to answer their names at Yorktown. How many left the unit when it reached New York we do not know; certainly Tarleton and Major Hanger and probably other officers of means went off to England, never to return. Twenty-four officers and men settled at Shelburne, as we have seen. At the final disbandment 125 stepped ashore at Port Mouton. Local tradition puts the total of "Legion people" - men, women and children - "at something over 300".
Fully one-third of the names in the list are Scotch, and the rest are English, Irish, Welsh and one or two Dutch. As we have seen, the corps was raised originally in Pennsylvania and brought to full strength amongst the Loyalist refugees on Long Island. But the regiment's losses in Carolina were terrific - it was cut to pieces at Cowpens - and its twenty-odd other battles and skirmishes took their toll. The fever and heat in the unhealthy Carolina river country took no less. Tarleton himself declared (History, pages 87 and 88) in reference to the routine patrols and baggage escort work, "This service injured them infinitely more than all the preceding moves and actions of the campaign ... they were nearly destroyed in detail." That Tarleton refilled his ranks from the Carolina loyalists is abundantly clear from his own and rebel accounts. (See McCrady's "South Carolina in the Revolution". See also, for instance, Tarleton's despatch to Cornwallis, Jan. 4th, 1781.)
The settlers of Scotch descent in the Carolinas were stout Loyalists, and to them we must attribute the maintenance of the "Scotch Company" in the Legion attested by the regimental muster rolls. Captain Donald McPherson, employed on recruiting service by Tarleton in Carolina, was later the senior officer of the Legion settlers at Port Mouton. In view of all this, and of local tradition at Port Mouton, I think it safe to say that most of the men, women and children who stood on the sandy shore of Nova Scotia that cool October day in 1783 came originally from plantations in the South.
Picture that scene! - the scanty possessions piled on the shore, the ships hoisting sail in the offing, the women with eight years of persecution and war written in their faces, the questioning children; Captain McPherson, quill in hand, scratching off discharge certificates on the nearest stump, and the soldiers, the veterans of Catawba Ford, Camden, Guildford and a score of other battlefields from Charleston to the Chesapeake, stepping away from that stump one by one in the faded and patched green jackets, their shabby breeches, their broken shoes and riding boots, and counting carefully those pitiful shillings. Picture the scrub forest and the stony land, the dull sky and the grey sea, and feel the cold wind whipping up the slope. And picture, if you can, the thoughts of those Carolina exiles on the sandy shore!
The story of that settlement at Port Mouton is one of the most heroic and tragic in Nova Scotia history. Haliburton ("Account of Nova Scotia", Vol. 2.) gives a brief description of it. This is what he says:
"Between Liverpool and the bounds of Shelburne County is Port Mouton. In the year 1783 the British Legion, which had served with distinguished reputation in the American war under Colonel Tarleton, began a settlement at Harbour Mouton and laid the foundation of a town, to which they gave the name of Guysborough. They were not long in perceiving that they had made a most injudicious selection for the settlement, the soil being stony and barren, and the country having nothing to recommend it but its harbor. Although they had erected a number of houses they resolved to abandon it, but while making preparations for removing their effects an accidental fire consumed the town to ashes with all their live stock, furniture and wearing apparel, filled up the measure of their calamities, and rendered them perfectly miserable. A more complete destruction from that merciless element was never known, and had not a King's ship been despatched from Halifax with provisions, they must inevitably have perished from famine."
So far Haliburton's account is correct, but he makes a most important omission - that another corps with its wives and families, much more numerous than the Legion group, were put ashore at Port Mouton soon after them. And it is these others, not Tarleton's Legion, of whom he speaks in the succeeding passage:
"Most of those persons who suffered by the conflagration removed to Chedabucto Bay, in the easternmost extremity of the province, a situation much more suitable to their deserts, and affording them some consolation in ... their sufferings.''
Let us see what really happened. Haliburton gives us the bones of it. Local tradition, handed down in the Legion families, gives us a good deal more. A careful study of the land grants, with the successive changes of ownership, add a bit here and there. The Admiralty records help, so do the muster rolls of Loyalists compiled later on in other parts of the province. There is the letter book of Morris, the surveyor-general. There are the admirable researches of W. F. Ganong and W. O. Raymond, published by the New Brunswick Historical Society. Finally there is the diary of Simeon Perkins, chief magistrate, member in Assembly, merchant, ship-owner and general Pooh-Bah of Liverpool, just around the cape from Port Mouton. In his various capacities
Perkins came into contact with the Legion settlers from time to time, and noted it in his diary. Unfortunately he was a man of many affairs and interests, especially money and religion, (there was a bitter religious controversy raging in Liverpool at this time) - all of which seemed more important to Perkins than the fact that 2,500 people, a population larger than that of Halifax in 1783, were struggling for existence just around the corner. But we must be satisfied with what we have - it is enough.
As we have seen, the first transport arrived in Port Mouton on October 10th, 1783, and promptly put its passengers ashore. Two of them, Lieut. Thomas Scott and Surgeon Edward Smith of the Legion, took a quick look at the landscape, went off to Liverpool, hired a shallop, and removed their families to that frugal but comfortable Yankee town.
They must have smiled grimly when a Yankee merchant, "Mr. Emmoney of Boston", taking quick advantage of the peace and the needs of the detested Tories, sailed his brig into Port Mouton and blandly offered live cows and sheep for sale. They needed his cargo badly enough but they had little money for such things, and Mr. Emmoney sailed off to try the trade at Shelburne.
About this time, October 17th, another ship came into the lonely bay. This was H. M. S. Sophie with another burden for the slender resources of Guysborough Town - 70 negroes, who were put ashore to settle themselves. She also informed the Legion men that two other ships were on the way from New York, bringing 700 of the Commissary-General's Department. This was surprising enough; but the sequel was more surprising than the forecast, for during the remainder of October and all through November, ships came and put ashore at Port Mouton practically the entire base personnel of the British fleet and army operating out of New York since 1776, together with sundry discharged sailors from the dispatch boat Miranda, the transport Neptune, and a few soldiers of the King's Own Maryland Loyalists and the 71st Highlanders, many accompanied by wives and children.
Records of the Commissary-General's Department at the evacuation of New York show that exactly 2081 persons were settling or about to settle at Port Mouton. Add these to the Legion people, and the negroes, and it is clear that something like 2500 men, women and children spent the winter of 1783-84 in Guysborough Town at Port Mouton.
Brook Watson, that shrewd and able man, was Commissary-General of the forces. He knew Nova Scotia well, though not this part of it, and if he sent his numerous New York staff to the north on a surveyor's blind choice he at least made some provision for their shelter. For instance the ship Nancy, Captain Samuel Burnet, which arrived at Port Mouton from New York early in November, had on board according to Perkins the frames of houses, etc., as well as passengers. Watson also sent an agent, Mr. John Stuart, to look after his Departments' needs at Port Mouton and to harass the authorities at Halifax in their behalf.
The men of Tarleton's Legion had no such influence, and they must have looked with mixed feelings upon this sudden flood of strangers, most of whom had served out the war so comfortably, so far from the dust and heat of battle, and now apparently were to live with comfort in the wilds of Port Mouton. But even Brook Watson's influence could not equip all his people, and the last-comers found themselves short of everything, like Tarleton's men. Guysborough Town was overflowing, and local tradition says some of the people wintered in miserable huts on the slope east of Wobamkek Beach, while the letter-book of Charles Morris declares that certain ones spent the winter in caves.
Unloading the ships was difficult and slow. There were no wharves and the vessels lay in the creek; everything had to be taken ashore in boats, and the more bulky freight on rafts. Fortunately there were plenty of hands to do the work, and men accustomed to the handling and despatch of supplies. The senior officer was Colonel Robert Mollison, who had been Wagonmaster-General of the forces at New York, and his right-hand man at Port Mouton was Colonel Nathaniel Hubbell of the Commissary-General's Department.
Although the distance across the cape to Liverpool was only 12 miles in a straight line there was no road, not even a path through the woods, and communication by sea was interrupted frequently by the furious autumn and winter storms. Some of the Legion men found their way to Liverpool by following the shore, wading the mouths of the smaller streams and crossing Broad River and the White Point river on makeshift rafts. The supplies they bought with their scanty funds had to be carried on their backs to Port Mouton by the same route - a round trip of not less than 35 miles.
Liverpool then was a town of frugal fishermen and other seafarers, with a grist mill and a few small sawmills on the lower falls of the Mersey River. Its merchants were hard-headed traders of New England birth, and Simeon Perkins, the cautious Connecticut Yankee, was their chief magistrate and spokesman. Early in November the desperate exiles on the shore of Port Mouton sent an appeal to Liverpool for lumber. Perkins at once asked who would pay for it. Nobody seemed to know. There was correspondence with the government at Halifax - which was overwhelmed with requests of this sort. Mr. Secretary Bulkeley wrote Perkins vaguely requesting him to assist the Commissary-General's Department and the other refugees at Port Mouton. That was not good enough for Simeon.
December came in with snow and then rain on a furious south-east gale. Through that gale at the risk of his life came John Stuart in a small sloop from Port Mouton, sailing over the Liverpool bar in a smother of breaking seas. Urgently he demanded to know what the government had said or done about lumber for Guysborough Town. Perkins simply showed him Bulkeley's letter. Off went Stuart again, and there was more correspondence between Port Mouton and Halifax.
In the meantime a great number of new refugees had arrived at Port Mouton, amongst them a Presbyterian minister who may have been John Macleod, chaplain of Tarleton's Legion during the war. Whoever he was, after seeing the situation at Port Mouton he left on December 12th aboard a coasting schooner for Halifax - probably to add his pleas to those of Stuart, Molleson and McPherson, for within a few days Perkins received a direct order from Halifax commanding him to purchase and ship 60,000 feet of lumber to the refugees at Port Mouton. Payment for this was specified.
Now Perkins moved. He purchased the cargo of a sloop already laden with lumber for Halifax and despatched it [to] Port Mouton on December 20th. For the rest he had to depend on the sawmills two miles up the Mersey River. There was no road to the mills. The lumber as it came from the saws had to be dropped into the river, gathered into rafts and floated down to the town - this in December weather. At Liverpool the lumber had to be taken out of the water - each board by this time coated with ice - and loaded into schooners and sloops. At Port Mouton the lumber had to be flung into the water again and floated ashore, where those anxious men and their shivering families were waiting. And over this whole belated enterprise hung the weather. One cold snap would freeze the lower reach of the Mersey and prevent all further shipment from the mills.
On December 23rd Colonel Molleson sent one of his officers to Perkins, probably with an urgent plea for speed. On the following day the cold snap came. The river froze all the way from the sawmills to Liverpool. On Christmas Day, Perkins wrote in his diary a significant "Very cold." Fortunately for the refugees at Port Mouton the river opened again in a January thaw, but the rafting process was slow and painful, and at the end of the month Perkins actually went to Halifax to make sure of his pay before completing the order. When the last of the boards arrived at Port Mouton the winter was half gone.
Meanwhile those hard-pressed men at Port Mouton had put up log huts, sod huts, tents of ship canvas and brushwood, together with frame houses brought piecemeal from New York, and so at last Guysborough Town stood in the snow complete with its three long streets and its three lanes down to the water. Some of the officers were able to buy luxuries like sugar but most of the people lived on the ration doled out by the commissariat - one pound of salt pork and one pound of hard biscuit per head per day, eked out with salt codfish, with rabbits snared in the barrens behind the town and clams dug in the creek at low tide. For fuel they had green hardwood, burned in the crude open hearths. In most cases their clothes were too few and their bedding too thin for a Nova Scotia winter. The men could venture abroad and warm themselves in cutting firewood and hunting, but the women and children remained in the tents and huts and houses, prisoners of the cold.
When the snow became deep all were confined to the town, and this crowding and jostling together produced the inevitable quarrels between the Legion men and the Commissary personnel. There was a flare-up of violence. Men came to fists and then to clubs, and Captain McPherson of the Legion took part in one affray with a drawn dirk. Yet McPherson knew what every soldier knows, that such affairs are born of idleness and close quarters. The remedy is to get the men outdoors and give them an outlet somehow for their surplus energy. And so McPherson went to Liverpool and suggested to Perkins the cutting of a road through the woods between the towns. If the Liverpool men would cut half way, his men would undertake the rest.
They agreed on a route and the thing was done. Fifty men of Liverpool turned out and cut towards the west. McPherson and his soldiers cut their way from Guysborough Town. The job began on February 21st and was finished on March 4th - a horse-path, really, cut out the width of a man's outstretched arms after the old colonial fashion, with pole bridges over the brooks. And the day it was finished, despite the cold and the snow and another storm in the offing, a number of people tramped the twelve miles from Guysborough to look upon the neighbor town of Liverpool. It was an historic meeting, for South met North as the Carolinians looked upon the Yankees of Nova Scotia. They were not much impressed with each other at first, indeed there would be little inter-marriage until the second generation, but part of the strong blend which the world came to know as the Bluenose type was brewing that wintry day in the County of Queens.
The worst of the winter was now past; but the weather, the monotonous diet, the close confinement in huts and tents, had taken their payment in sickness and death. Young William Morris had failed to include a graveyard in his neat plan of the town, and so they buried their dead in one of the "water-lots", half way between the first street and the head of Jones Creek.
Still their common miseries did not unite them. The squabbles went on, and when the spring court opened in Liverpool April l2th, 1784 there was a rush of litigants from Port Mouton with cases to press or to defend. In cases of Legion men versus those of the Commissary Department the scales were weighted, for Colonels Molleson and Hubbell of that Department turned up at the court with commissions as justices, accompanied by their own clerk, and took their places on the bench. Captain Donald McPherson of the Legion applied at once for a similar appointment, but his application had to go to Halifax and the commission did not arrive until late in May. By that time matters had completely changed.
Perkins does not reveal the outcome of these April trials, but they were symptoms of the unrest that prevailed at Guysborough Town all through the winter and the long wet spring. Tarleton's men, veterans of actual fighting in the war, and the pioneers of Guysborough, resented the presence of the horde of base personnel thrust upon them by the Commissary-General. And Colonel Molleson's men for their part detested the place and wanted no more of it. Some were for removing to Chedabucto Bay as soon as the weather got warm; some were for Digby, some for the St. Croix river on the farther side of Fundy. Finally they held a "camp election" to decide who would go where, and as a result of it about the middle of May, 1784, they began to take down the frame houses they had built and prepared to remove.
And while this was going on the final catastrophe occurred. All through April and May the weather had been continuously wet, so that the woods were sodden and the streams in flood. But on May 14th the wind swung to the south-west and there followed a succession of hot days. It was the dangerous time that every forest ranger knows, when the trees and bushes are still bare and last year's leaves are crisp and rattling under foot, when every brush pile, every patch of grass is like a powder train awaiting one unlucky spark.
Such a spark occurred. The Legion people, watching the others preparing to depart, suddenly heard a cry of fire in one part of the town. In another minute a wave of flame, borne on the strong southwest wind, came swiftly upon them. All hands caught at water pails and they formed lines down to Jones Creek, but their efforts were useless. The fire swept through the town consuming everything they had in the world, and men, women and children were driven down to the water's edge where they had landed six or seven months before. The date of the fire is not recorded. I put it at May 19th.
Molleson sent an appeal for help to Halifax, and for once the response was prompt. A naval transport came to Port Mouton with supplies, and a few days later sailed for the Bay of Fundy crammed with refugees. On May 26, 1784, she landed Lieutenant Nehemiah Mark and about 280 others on the banks of the St. Croix river, where they hoisted the British flag and founded what they called Morristown (now known as St. Stephen, N. B.) and where for many years they called themselves "The Port Matoon Associates". She landed the rest of her passengers, 113 persons, at Digby, N. S., where on May 29th, 1784, we find them listed in Stump's company of loyalists as "refugees from Port Mouton".
In the meantime Colonel Molleson had hired three or more vessels at Liverpool to take him and several hundred of his people to Chedabucto Bay; and there, in June 1784 they founded a new town and gave it the old name of Guysborough, in memory of that blackened ruin at Port Mouton. Finally, in July, five government transports carried the rest of Molleson's people to the new Guysborough, and the ruins of the old were left to Tarleton's Legion and the seventy poor negroes. Most of the negroes drifted into Liverpool, where they found a few others of their race, slaves or servants of Perkins and other merchants, and formed a little colony on the outskirts of the town which remains to this day.
Of the Legion people a considerable number remained at Port Mouton, building new homes closer to the shore, where the house of Sergeant Neil Campbell still stands, on a spot not far from the Legion cemetery. Others removed to fishing coves between Port Mouton and Liverpool, and some to Liverpool itself, where a number of single men took refuge in the abandoned barracks at the fort. One or two families went up the river to Milton, and some of the Irish later to the new settlement in north Queens.
As far as I can determine most of the Legion men remained in Queens or the adjacent parts of Nova Scotia. Of those who settled in other parts of the province one finds a reference here and there. The crown land records show that Quartermaster Amos Chapman of the Legion had a town lot in the new Guysborough on Chedabucto Bay, and 500 acres at Havre Boucher in what is now Antigonish County. Captain Nathaniel Vernon had land on Pell's Road near Shelburne. Captain John Spencer had a town lot and other property in Shelburne, where according to Marston's journal he practised somewhat unsuccessfully as an attorney at law. Lieutenant Michael Largin or Larkin, one time adjutant of Tarleton's Legion, had land at Jordan River and in the town of Shelburne where (see correspondence of Gideon White) he was Deputy Naval Officer in 1786. Captain Francis Geldart (spelled Gildart and Gilbert in the grants) had a town lot in Shelburne.
Major Hanger's groom Newton (see Winslow Papers) married a well-to-do widow at Annapolis and settled there. James Maxwell, of the Legion's flying artillery, settled at St. Stephen, N.B. with Nehemiah Marks. In "The Old Judge", Haliburton gives what is obviously a portrait from life of a "Captain Tygart" of Tarleton's Legion, badly wounded at Cowpens, restless and embittered by the war, living somewhere near Amherst on his half-pay and drinking himself to dementia in the village inn.
Lieutenant Walter Willett and Cornet Samuel Willett of the Legion cavalry were granted lands at Wilmot N. S. in 1784. They took a keen interest in the Valley militia, and at the time of the French alarm in 1793 one of them led his company from Granville to Halifax, marching the entire distance of 130 miles in 35 hours - a feat worthy of Tarleton himself. Indeed the memory of Tarleton's old corps was so fresh in western Nova Scotia at this time (ten years after disbandment) that Colonel Barclay's regiment of militia, of which Willett's company was part, was proud to call itself the Nova Scotia Legion or Barclay's Legion.
This corps was formed like Tarleton's Legion with inclusive units of horse, foot and artillery, something unique in the Nova Scotia militia establishment. In a report to London, Lieutenant-Governor Wentworth referred to them in these words: "I have another select regiment of one thousand men, commanded by half-pay officers, and composed of privates most of whom served under these officers during the late war. They have two companies of artillery and one of horse, and can be assembled in Halifax on six days' notice, part of them sooner."
A particular vein of tragedy seems to have followed Tarleton's men who settled in Queen's County. We find it again and again in Perkins' Diary. Thus - "August 15, 1784, one of the Legions buried this evening." - " Sep. 7, 1784, one of the Legions is found at the (Mersey) falls, drowned." - "Sep. 10, 1784, one of the Legions was drowned, wading the creek at Little Port Jolly, his name Christy." - "July 12, 1788, John Duncan, a Legion soldier, fell over the dam at Broad River and was drowned."
On Christmas Eve, 1785, a Legion soldier named Michael Hayes while in drink struck and killed his wife at Port Mouton. His comrades arrested him and brought him by boat "in extreme cold weather" to the Liverpool gaol, there to await the spring court. At Halifax, Attorney-General Sampson Salter Blowers seized an opportunity to demonstrate the majesty of the law and came down in May in person - in the Governor's yacht. There was a full dress trial, the first ever seen in Queens County, and on July 10th 1786 in the presence of the townsfolk and a solemn platoon of the County Militia, poor Hayes was hanged in Liverpool "on the common land back of the meeting house" - a spot still known as Gallows Hill.
There was trouble of other kinds. For instance in November 1786, after the men had settled and improved their lands at Port Mouton for three hard years, a Liverpool court granted a writ of ejectment and a bill for trespass against a number of them, including a soldier's widow. The matter dragged on for many months before the local court's decision was over-ruled at Halifax.
But of course these were the matters that excited Perkins' interest, and they found their way into his diary precisely as such matters find their way into the newspapers of today. In the main, after that climactic fire at Port Mouton, the Legion soldiers settled peacefully into the life of the County, their sons and daughters inter-married with those of the New England pioneer families, and their descendants are numerous and proud of their descent.
Unfortunately too few of them know the full story of their ancestors' courage and endurance, and that is one reason why I have been at pains over a period of years to collect these notes and set them down. Some of the descendants did preserve much of the story, of course. One such was Nicholas Smith, for many years the principal of Milton (Queens County) Academy and famous for the number of his pupils who became men of note. He was a grandson of Dr. Edward Smith, surgeon of Tarleton's Legion. Another who knew much of the story was the late Colonel F. S. L. Ford, C. M. G. of Milton, Queens County, a descendant of John Coop, a soldier of the Legion.
Typical of the Carolinians who founded families in Queens County was Sergeant George Hammett of the Legion. He enlisted in 1777 at the age of 16, probably in one of the Loyalist partisan troops then operating in South Carolina, and transferred to the Legion when that corps came to Charleston. After Yorktown he remained a prisoner until '83, came to Nova Scotia from Virginia, and settled with the rest of the regiment at Port Mouton. He married a Nova Scotia girl some years later. It was 23 years before he had word of his parents, who had followed him into Virginia and then gone back to Charleston after the war. (See Long's "Epitaphs".)
One curiosity of the Carolinian strain introduced into Queens County by Tarleton's men is a distinct trace of the southern accent which persists in certain families after all the years. It is remarked by every American visitor. In more than one Queens County home I have heard such words as, "Yes, suh!" - "Heah" - "Theah" - "Anywheah" - pronounced exactly as one would hear them pronounced in South Carolina today.
In the sad Nova Scotia fashion many of the family names have died out, because generation after generation men were lost at sea or sought new opportunities in the United States or the Canadian West; but the direct descent and in many cases the accent have been continued in the female line, especially in Queens County. Today the memory of Tarleton's men is preserved about Port Mouton in many a place-name - Carter's Beach, Hammett's Ridge, Jones Creek, Shean's Hole, Stewart's Lake, Trigg's (mispronounced Tripp's) River; and it seems probable that they gave the stream which flows through old Guysborough Township the name of "Broad River" which it bears today. The river actually is narrow, but all of them had memories of Broad River in South Carolina, a scene of their early campaigns.
But their chief memento is the ruins of their town. When the builders of the Halifax and South Western Railway passed through Port Mouton in 1904 they laid their track along what had been the main street of old Guysborough, and removed many of the stone walls and foundations for use as fill or ballast further on. Yet many of the ancient house foundations remain, with their shallow cellars and the lines of piled stone which marked each plot where some long-dead man of the Legion once hoped to plant a garden.
I have visited the spot a number of times, once with the American artist John Frost, who was so impressed with the tale that he sat upon one of the old cellar walls and sketched the scene, looking out towards the sea. It is pathetic, in all truth. And the most pathetic part of it is the little Legion cemetery on the slope below. The graves lie close together, marked for the most part with nothing but a chunk of field stone at the head and foot. There are certainly fifty graves and probably many more; the stones which once marked them are difficult to distinguish now from the stones in situ all about the slope.
How many of these graves are those of the original Legion settlers it is impossible to say, for some of their descendants continued to bury in the same plot, and there is a group of engraved headstones dated mostly in the 1850's, '60's and '70's standing forlorn in the wilderness. Finally it was abandoned as a burial ground and the whole slope is now and has been for many years a pasture for the village cows.
In June 1939 I spent an afternoon exploring the site of old Guysborough in company with the forest ranger for the district, a resident of Port Mouton. We ended our tour at the cemetery where, in the long grass, we came upon broken sections of an inscribed slate headstone like those you see in old St. Paul's burial ground at Halifax. We managed to put part of the epitaph together, and found it to be the tombstone of Daniel Smith, one of the original Legion settlers, a young veteran of 25 when he stepped ashore at Port Mouton.
The stub of the broken tombstone remained upright in the soil, bearing the words - "A True Friend Lies Buried Here" - as if Britannia herself had placed it there to mark them all.
"Account of Nova Scotia" - Haliburton
"History of the British Army" - Fortescue
"History of the Campaigns of 1780 & 1781" - Banastre Tarleton
"History of the Queens Rangers" - James Hannay
"Strictures on Lieut. Colonel Tarleton's History" - McKenzie
"An address to the Army" - George Hanger
"South Carolina in the Revolution" - McCrady
"Uniforms of ... the American Revolution" -- Lefferts
Papers of Dean W. O. Raymond, New Brunswick Historical Society
Papers of Professor W. F. Ganong, New Brunswick Historical Society
The Winslow Papers, New Brunswick Historical Society
Journal of Benjamin Marston
Diary of Simeon Perkins
"Epitaphs from Old Cemeteries of Liverpool, N. S." - R. Long & C. Warman
P.A.N.S. Publication No. 4, "Loyalists & Land Settlement in Nova Scotia"
P.A.N.S. Publication No. 5, "The White Collection of Manuscripts" P. A. N. S. M/S Vol. 376, "Muster Rolls of Loyalists"
P.A.N.S. Letter Book of Charles Morris Sr., 1784
P.A.N.S. Admiralty In-letters, Series 1, Vol. 491
Loyalists of the American Revolution - Lorenzo Sabine
In clearing up certain knotty points I had the aid of Dr. A. C. Jost a member of the N. S. Historical Society then living in the United States who carried out research for me at Yorktown and in the library of Congress at Washington.
I had as well the assistance of Miss Margaret Ells, formerly of the P.A.N.S. staff,
Doctor D. C. Harvey, head of the P. A. N. S., and Miss Mabel Webber, librarian of the
South Carolina Historical Society, to all of whom I am most grateful.
My thanks also to the Mersey Paper Company of Liverpool, N.S., who made photostat copies of Sergeant Campbell's discharge certificate, and of six of the Legion's land-lottery tickets, and whose forestry department provided me with a copy of the ancient map of Guysborough Township.
Thomas H. Raddall
Liverpool, N. S.
March 8th, 1947
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