J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lee’s Loyalty Oath

In the winter of 1775-76, Gen. Charles Lee went to Rhode Island to shore up that colony’s defenses against an attack by sea. He also took it upon himself to make people repeat this loyalty oath to the Continental Congress, written in his typically extravagant style:

I ——— here, in the presence of Almighty God, as I hope for ease, honour, and comfort in this world, and happiness in the world to come, most earnestly, devoutly and religiously swear that I will neither directly or indirectly assist the wicked instruments of ministerial tyranny and villany commonly called the King’s troops and navy, by furnishing them with provisions and refreshments of any kind, unless authorized by the Continental Congress or Legislature at present established in this particular Colony of Rhode Island.

I do also swear, by the Tremendous and Almighty God, that I will neither directly or indirectly convey any intelligence, nor give any advice to the aforesaid enemies described; and that I pledge myself, if I should by any accident get knowledge of such treasons, to inform immediately the Committee of Safety; and as it is justly allowed that when the rights and sacred liberties of a nation or community are invaded, neutrality is not less base and criminal than open and avowed hostility:

I do further swear and pledge myself, as I hope for eternal salvation, that I will, whenever called upon by the voice of the Continental Congress, or by that of the Legislature of this particular Colony under their authority, take arms and subject myself to military discipline in defence of the common rights and liberties of America. So help me God.
Of course, the problem with a coerced loyalty oath is that you don’t need to administer it to people who are already loyal while administering it to people who are enemies or neutrals simply makes them feel coerced and more likely to abjure the oath once they get free of the coercion.

And then there’s the question of whether any New Englanders respected a lecture from Lee about what they should “devoutly and religiously swear.” He was admired for many qualities this early in the war, but great piety was not among them.

Less than twelve months after Lee visited Rhode Island, the British military took over the island that includes Newport. That royal authorities held that territory against American assaults until 1779.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

A little discussion on Gen. Lee has ended up under this post.