Hezekiah Munsell, 2nd Paternal Cousin, Revolutionary War Soldier
Hezekiah Munsell was my 2nd cousin, 8 times removed through my paternal Taylor side of the family. He was born on January 17, 1753 in Windsor, Connecticut. He was a descendant of my 9 times Great Grandfather, Stephen Taylor, who was the first Taylor born in the "New World" in 1618.
In 1841, just 7 years before his death, he gave the following interview about his involvement in the Revolutionary War:
"We reached Harlem Heights this day before sun down; here we staid something like three weeks - our cooking utensils went with our tents - I never knew where. For a few days we fared hard. We, however, pulled chesnut bark from the trees - wet our flour, and made them in cakes on it, and in this way baked it by the fire. We had for meat, fresh beef, and for this we drew salt. One great pot which our Lieut, and his waiter found, served for many, as the utensil to cook our meat at this emergency. We did not stand then about hard fare, for we were fighting for liberty - sometimes our beef was roasted on the coals."
"The following narrative is published as taken down from the lips of Mr. Hezekiah Munsell, of East Windsor, one of the patriots of the revolution, and now in the 88th year of his age.
Communicated to the Courant. Recollections of the Revolution. By a Soldier.
'At the time when the news of Lexington battle reach us, in East Windsor, I was in the 23d year of my age. In 1755, when the war commenced there was but one newspaper printed in Hartford - the Courant. By reading that my own mind was principally prepared to repel the British invasion. It is true that there was much said in every situation and station in life by the people, in relation to our condition to the to the mother country at this crisis. I remember reading one, or more letters, from Governor Trumbull, to Governor Gage, which had a powerful influence on my mind, and did much to prepare me for the scenes in which I afterward took a part. The stamp act, duty on tea, Boston Port bill, and the massacre of citizens, in the town of Boston, by British soldiers, in April. 1770: all tended to prepare me to defend what I considered our common rights, and liberties. At this juncture, I felt and so did others, that there must he a war. For the feeling.was quite general, that unless we defended our rights and liberties, we must be slaves: and as unnatural as some may think of it, we chose to decide the question by an 'appeal to arms.' In this stale of mind, the news of Lexington battle reached me.
Captain Lemuel Stoughton, who then commanded the Company of Militia in the north part of this town, called out his company: and we paraded half of a mile north of Scantic meeting-house. Names were soon called for volunteers, and us many as forty volunteered to march to the field of battle with their Captain. We left our homes the next day, for the field of conflict - this day was Saturday - most of this little company were full of patriotism, and ambition.
On Monday we reached Shrewsbury, where we met Colonel Nathaniel Terry, of Enfield, who had been to Roxbury, which was the head quarters of the Provincials, He brought back to us and others, on the way to the rendezvous, advice, that we should so arrange that those who came on should stay two or three weeks.
This brought our company to a stand, and the Sergeant Ebenezer Watson, Jr., beat up for volunteers. Eleven of our number turned out to march to Roxbury. We chose E. Watson, as our Lieut, and N. Phelps, Sergeant - Tuesday we left Shrewsbury, and reached head quarters Wednesday. On this expedition, we bore our own expenses, and lived for the most part of the time on what our wives and mothers put into our knapsacks when we left home.
On reaching Roxbury, we found that many of the inhabitants had fled - we soon found a house empty, and prepared to occupy it. Two more of the volunteers soon joined our number, and we prepared to take up our quarters in a School house. We were not much exercised in military
tactics at this time. I stood as sentinel two, or three times, which was the most that I did in the soldier's life at this campaign.
What was then a curiosity to me, we drew for our rations, sea-bread, which I was then told, was taken from the British, on their excursion to Concord. It was so much of a curiosity, that I brought some of it home, when I returned.
When in this campaign, I remember of seeing several Tories brought into Roxbury, by the soldiers, from the neighboring towns. I then supposed that they were considered as dangerous men in our state of affairs, to have their liberty in the community. They wore their white wigs; and for some reason or other, a number of them had settled down in Marshfield.
Most of the inhabitants, now living in Massachusetts, and Connecticut, can hardly conceive of the spirit of indignation, which was enkindled in the community at the news of the march of British troops from Boston, to Concord, in April, 1775.
The second time I went into the Revolutionary war, I enlisted in the month of May, 1775, for seven months. Colonel George Pitkin, of East Hartford, was our Cap-
tain. The company numbered one hundred men, rank and file; and all of them lived to return to their homes, at the expiration of the time for which we enlisted.
We were stationed at Roxbury, and Brookline, at our first going into actual service; during this campaign, the American army was reduced to discipline. I recollect, that the lighthouse in Boston harbour, was burnt by a party of Americans not far from this time. This was done to vex the enemy's shipping, but it never amounted to much in this way.
A part of the regiment to which Colonel Pitkin's company belonged, went to the north, to join the northern army. It was the duty of the company to which I belonged, to guard the shore in the vicinity of Boston. I was not in the battle of Bunker Hill; our company was not called to take part in that conflict. I heard the cannon, and was standing on the bell deck of Brookline meeting house, during that battle. From this elevation I saw Charlestown burnt.
The company to which I belonged, had not much fighting with the enemy, during this campaign. In addition to the towns named above, we were in Cohasset, Dorchester Farms, and Hingham. We spent the last part of the seven months in Cohasset, where we had three stations to guard. Winter was approaching - the weather was very cold, and at our guard-house we were not well supplied with wood. For the want of fuel, we burnt rails from the fence - complaint was made by the freeholders to the officers: orders were consequently given to the soldiers - not to burn any more /rails!/ Baxter was our Sergeant, and when the time came to give his orders to the guard - he communicated the prohibition on /rails!/ He, however, added - "there has been nothing said about posts - I advise you to keep a good fire." We burnt posts that day, and afterwards we were supplied with fuel.
During this campaign, we did not always draw our ration of rum; I was never troubled on this point, if I had such a ration, I could sell it for a trifle, or give it away - for I never drank rum. In this campaign, our food was as good as I wanted; but as I shall state by and by, it was not always so during the war.
One of the Provincial Refugees, who came from Boston, to Cohasset, was addressed by a soldier - as he was out of business - now says the soldier, "you have nothing to do." He replied "O yes! - I
have to contrive how to make one shilling go as far as two used to."
When leaving for home, at the expiration of my term, Colonel Pitkin, put into my hand two or three bills of Continental money, the first I remember of ever seeing.
While our company was stationed in Roxbury, Moses Huxley was killed by a cannon ball, which was fired from Boston. He belonged to Captain Hanchet's company, and was from Suffield.
In this campaign, our chaplain was Rev. Mr. Boardman, whom the British called the cannon or gun of the gospel; on account of his strength and compass of voice.
Campaign of 1776 - Third time of entering the Revolution.
In the month of June, 1776, I again enlisted for seven months. My Captain was Simon Wolcott, of this town. Colonel Gay commanded the regiment to which this company belonged.
It was now more difficult to obtain soldiers for the campaign than it bad been previously: for the war continued longer than was at first anticipated. The novelty of the campaign and field of action had gone by. Men who now enlisted expected to have hard fighting. Having these things in my mind, I marched from home the last of June. We reached New York just as the Declaration of Independence was published to the army. On the evening of the day that this instrument was made public the city was illuminated. It is now my conviction, and has been for many years, that this event transpired not later than the 8th or 10th of July. This much I remember, it was but a few days after I reached N. York.
In the month of July, I went with others to work on Fort Independence, where I worked eight days. In this month we were ordered over to Long Island. Here our company staid for more than a month; and during this period many of the troops with whom I was stationed suffered with the dysentery. I was attacked like others, and was under the surgeon's care; though I never gave up to it a single day. It was the subject of some remark, Munsell is the most persevering fellow I ever saw, he won't be sick. The writer would say here, that this Hezekiah Munsell was born into the world a temperance child; and he has always been at antipodes with alcohol in every shape. This, i. e. the fact of his temperance habits, might have been beneficial to his constitution when attacked with disease at this time.
General Sullivan and Lord Stirling then led this division of the army. Our company was divided, one half would go from the barracks, at Brooklyn, to Flatbush to keep garrison one day, the next day the other half would come and relieve them. We were daily expecting that we should be annoyed by the enemy; and when they began to land on the Island at Redhook, I recollect the following incident. Some one of our company went every day to get milk for the sick soldiers at an old Dutchman's. I went on this errand one day, and the old man said to me in relation to the enemy - "there will be thousands and thousands of them."
Things remained much as above described, till the day of the battle on Long Island. On the morning of the general battle the soldiers laid hold and worked like men to save their lives, in throwing up a breast work, and in cutting and drawing into a line before our breast work a row of apple trees - brush turned from us, to impede the enemy, should they come on us. I worked both on the breast work and drawing in the trees. Our Lieut. Colonel Hart, had command of our regiment at this time. Colonel Gay was taken sick and died in New York We were all now prepared for an engagement with the enemy. It has been said by some that General Washington never left his saddle this day. But I saw him walk along the lines, and give his orders in person, to the Colonels of each regiment. I heard him give orders to Colonel Hart. His orders were much like the following - If the enemy come to attack us let them approach within twenty yards before you fire. It was tho't to be a stratagem for the enemy to draw our fire, and then force us from the
entrenchment; but they found Washington too old for them. I would further say that I heard Washington say, "If I see any man turn his back to day, I will shoot him through; I have two pistols loaded; yet I will not ask a man to go farther than I do; I will fight so long as I have a leg or an arm." This is but a mere scrap of what the brave Washington then said. Others have said, in this conversation, he mentioned that the time has come when Americans must be freemen or slaves - quit yourselves like men, like soldiers; for all which is worth living for is at stake.
During the day of Long Island battle, on the right wing where I was stationed, there was but little firing. The position which we held at the time was near a tide mill - the Yellow mill. When Washington was giving his orders to our Colonel, there was in the pond where this mill stood, a man who was attempting to escape from the enemy - an inhabitant of the Island I supposed, who was stuck in the mud. Some proposed to go and help him. Washington said no, knowing that they would be in the same predicament, and thus be taken by the enemy. What become of the poor fellow I never knew. I never saw the British on the day of this battle. The ground was such, and a grove intervening, as to cut off the prospect. As to this battle, I was not personally knowing to any thing more particular, but what is publicly known. On the right we retreated, I was just relieved from the breastwork, when I heard Colonel Chester, of Wethersfield, say, we are going to retreat. The next person I heard speak of it was General Putnam - when we were on the march - he spoke I then thought imprudently; for some one might have carried his report to the enemy. I left the Island for New York between eight and nine o'clock in the evening. The retreat was conducted without any difficulty. When the morning came I went to the Grand Battery and looking over to the Island, I saw two of our men plunge into the water and swim to get away from the British. The enemy fired at them, but they swam till our boats picked them up. I dont know as any of our men were lost on the Island by being left.
When we had safely landed in New York we felt ourselves freed for a moment from the enemy. But we had not long to rest. This was as late in the season as September 1st. The main army was now in New York. Our barracks then, were at Bull's head, Queen street, which was quite the upper part of the city. When we left this street we moved to the east and pitched our
tents. When we left on the retreat from New York, we lost our tents. By some misdirection they were carried to a wrong part of the city, and that was the last of them.
The enemy landed in New York, early in September. As we had no means of effectually resisting such superior forces, General Washington was obliged to retreat before them. The enemy from Long Island, passed up the East River, landed a party at Turtle Bay, where Colonel Knowlton was killed, and his troops dispersed. I saw Colonel Knowlton lie dead in a waggon, just as he was brought from the battle. His clothes were still covered with blood. He was a brave officer. The British when they landed their troops in New York at Turtle Bay, went under cover of two ships of war. They passed up the East river, and commenced firing, when under this cover their troops landed. On the evening previous to General Washington's retreat to Harlem Heights, I was set as sentinel at eight or nine o'clock, at the Southern part of our fortification, and was relieved at a proper hour. Early next morning, I looked for the place where our reigment [sic] lay.and found that the camp was broken up. I went in pursuit of my pack, which was left in this direction, when I went on duty I found it, and returned to my guard. Early in the day, I was set as sentinel again; in this situation one of the enemy's ships were firing their stern guns on our work, opposite our guard.
This fortification extended from north to south more than a mile. Our guard was stationed opposite Bull's Head at the upper part of our entrenchment. Somewhere Colonel Hart, our field officer, was made prisoner.
Our sentry consisted of seven men. In this condition we stood two hours, and then were not relieved - we in fact never were relieved. We stood I presume three hours; after we had stood more than two hours, one of the guard, whose name was Foster, came to me and said, "Munsell what shall we do" - I replied, "I don't know, we must stay here till we die, for ought I know." I now saw the enemy marching into the upper part of the entrenchment and I knew not what to do.
It was not long before Foster came again,and enquired "what can we do." The officer of the guard had not done his duty: where he was we knew not. All this time of painful suspense, the man of war was firing on us. It was not long before Loomis, one of the sentinels said to me, as we were in sight of each other, "Munsell, the guard has gone" - I replied, "It is then time for us to go." In our retreat, we started for the North River. Some of the men on this retreat threw away their packs. I kept mine though it was somewhat heavy. In this retreat, I perspired freely, and soon after recovered from the sickness which I spoke of having on Long Island. One of the sentinels threw away his pack, and very soon found a better one. In our retreat there was great disorder; I cannot say how it was with the other troops from personal observation, though I was told at the time, that Washington enquired when retreating from New York, to Harlem Heights, /have I got
to depend on such troops!/ So great was the disorder and confusion in the retreat. To return to my story - we soon reached the main road which our troops were travelling, and the first conspicuous person I met was General Putnam. He was making his way towards New York, when all were going from it. Where he was going I could not conjecture. Though I afterwards learned he was going after a small garrison of men in a crescent fortification, which he brought off safe. And when I passed him he was conversing with a field officer, who as I judged from their conversation was thinking it best to make a stand, and face the enemy. This officer was crying and I thought then rather /fuddled/. Putnam in harsh language told him to "go along about his business;" we soon came up with a regiment of Western Virginia troops in a grove on the road The Colonel of this regiment was at their head ; they were marching in single file. They would not allow us to pass them, though we were moving onward much raster than they were when we came up with them. The Colonel called out "halt:" his men stopped and we went on.
Here I will state a curious incident: One of our fellow soldiers came up with us, an acquaintance, who was chased by the enemy. The Hessians pushed him hard; be ran through swamps and mud, through brush and wood, and lost pack and coat, his shoes and stockings. He kept his arms, and once fired on his pursuer. I was able to furnish this destitute soldier with shoes and stockings. We reached Harlem Heights this day before sun down; here we staid something like three weeks - our cooking utensils went with our tents - I never knew where. For a few days we fared hard. We, however, pulled chesnut bark from the trees - wet our flour, and made them in cakes on it, and in this way baked it by the fire. We had for meat, fresh beef, and for this we drew salt. One great pot which our Lieut, and his waiter found, served for many, as the utensil to cook our meat at this emergency. We did not stand then about hard fare, for we were fighting for liberty - sometimes our beef was roasted on the coals.
No sharp fighting occurred at this station; the enemy came near us and we were soon on the march. The next move was to Mile Square. Here we drew tents and some cooking utensils. It was not long before we removed from this place to White Plains. This move of the army was in the night. In this march which was very slow, all our camp equipage we were obliged to carry on our backs.
White Plains. Colonel Gay was dead - Colonel Hart taken, and the command devolved on Major Mott. Previous to the battle in this place, the enemy one morning made a feint for a battle. Our entrenchment was a stone wall. Washington called his men out and put them in readiness to fight. His orders were similar to those on Long Island. But no battle was fought that day.
Battle of White Plains.
Our regiment were ordered out on fatigue the morning of the battle. We, however, saw the enemy in the field prepared for action; and they made a most splendid appearance. It was not Washington's plan to come to a general engagement; he therefore did not call out all of his force into this action. McDougald's brigade bore the brunt of this battle.
From White Plains the regiment to which I belonged, marched to Wright's Mills, At this place we did not tarry many days. From this station we moved to Phillipsburg. Here we remained a month or more,and then we removed to North Castle, where our enlistment expired, December 25, 1776. I immediately started for home, and before we reached East Windsor, the news of Trenton battle reached us. Our chaplain was Rev. Mr. Storrs.
August, 1778. - I was drafted to take care of the artillery taken from Burgoyne, which we received at Farmington, Ct., and delivered at White Plains, then head quarters of the American army. We were the whole month taking down these field pieces, to the Park, at While Plains. While at White Plains we met a whole guard of Hessians who came over to our army, officers and all: they were received kindly and sent to a place of safety.
No other incident occurred of interest, on this expedition. I received ten dollars in continental money for this month's service for my country, which would then buy a bushel of corn! I also received the same month, of the proper authority, for a gun which was lost in the northern army the year before, which was appraised at four pounds, twenty dollars!! Equal to two bushels of corn!
September, 1780. - I was drafted and marched to Horse Neck, to guard a number of Royalist Refugees. They were collected together from New York, Conn., etc., and some of the soldiers called them cow boys and bull drivers. Here we staid a few days, and then went by order of Arnold, who was then working his card[?], to North Castle. Soon after reaching this place, myself with others were sent to Peekskill for flour. Bread stuff was short amongst us. Which on our way to Peekskill, we staid one night in the woods, to avoid the Refugees. On this tour we fared hard, both going and coming. We could not get near the quantity of flour we wanted, and the quality of that was very poor. By means of Arnold and others, we were in a confused state at this time; and we soon came back to Horse Neck. While at this last named place, I drew one pint of hominy in ten days; and this was all the bread stuff that I could get! The last of this militia tour I spent in threshing wheat for my living and for the support of my comrades. In November, I returned to my family: and this was the last of my going into the revolutionary war. I received for my pay for this tour of service for my country, some trash in shape of continental money, which would pay taxes.
Near the close of the revolution, I had a tax of forty dollars to pay in continental money, and others with me (my neighbors) had not money of this description to pay this tax We got some specie together, sent a man to Springfield, where continental money was to be bought, and purchased what we wanted; so that I paid my forty dollar tax for about forty cents.
Colonel Knowlton had chased the British some distance: they were reinforced and he was killed in the vicinity of Harlem Heights. This skirmish was called the "Monday fight." It was the day after we retreated from New York which was on Saturday.
Names of three of the heroes who took Stoney Point, with Gen. Wayne their leader. These men have said that they were in the forlorn hope.
Alexander Thompson, East Windsor, first to enter the Fort. William Burns, Coventry; and Charles Brown, of Connecticut.
Piece of Antiquity. H. Munsell wore a hat to the field of conflict in 1775, with this motto on his brass frontispiece - "Liberty, Property, and all America."
In 1781, in the months of February, or March, I drove a team to Boston, with a load, and brought one back for a merchant in Springfield, Mass. I had a five cattle team. Returning home I staid in Roxbury one night, my team was fed, I had one meal, and lodging: my bill in the morning was
equal to two silver dollars; and continental money had so .depreciated that I paid in it the round sum of $140 for a single night's entertainment.'"
"Supplement to the Courant. Hartford. Volume VI. Number 33. Saturday, April 3, 1841." In "Suppements to the Hartford Courant, for the Years 1840 and 1841: Containing Tales, Travels, history, Biography, Poetry, and a great variety of Miscellaneous Articles." John L. Boswell. Hartford, Connecticut. 1841.