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, November 10, 2013

“The frothing Tory comeing for his Hog”

From the memoir of Boyrereau Brinch, an African-American dragoon in the Continental Army:
From thence we marched to West Point, and took up winter quarters. While we remained here the soldiers played many boyish pranks. One Samuel Shaw, a brave soldier, but as complete a petty thief as ever graced a camp; not that I would represent him a thievish character; as honesty was never more predominent in any human being, than it was in him, when he pledged himself to any fellow soldier. However he with myself and some others from our camp, the day before we were to be reviewed, by his Excellency, Gen. George Washington, concluded we would have a soldier-like frollick.

Accordingly we secretly stole from the lines, went to a Farm not many miles distant, which was occupied by a Tory. From him we stole a shoat [i.e., young pig]. Shaw was the principle manager in this affair, and we got into camp just before day. We laid the Shoat in the middle of the camp, and sat down, and in the language of gratitude, began conversing upon our success; but short was our confab. As we soon saw the frothing Tory comeing for his Hog.

We immediately covered ourselves with our blankets and effected to be asleep. He recognized his property; he went to the Col. to whose regiment we then belonged, and reported that we had stolen one of his shoats. Col. [Return J.] Meigs, came immediately to our company, and with a countenance, that plainly bespoke a determination of punishing us if guilty.

He asked how we came by that Shoat; I answered immediately that the owner had brought it for sale, but that from his manner of conversation (knowing him to have been a tory) we unanimously suspected him to have come as a spy, and were determined to keep the Shoat until the officers might have an opportunity of being acquainted with his designs.

My fellow soldiers were glad of the opportunity of confirming the truth of my assertion—which so completely satisfied the Col. of our innocence, together with the circumstance of its lying in fair view, in the middle of the Camp—that he severely reprimanded the man for his insult on him and his soldiers. The man a little frightened at so unexpected a charge of guilt that he really had the appearance of a condemned culprit, and was glad to escape with his dead pig upon his back.
Lots of other stories about soldiers’ “pranks” that I’ve seen involve stealing food from a Tory, or a Quaker, or someone else who, the storyteller suggests, deserved to be stolen from because he didn’t support the American cause enough. But I think the real point was the food.

(The picture above shows Col. Meigs later in life, courtesy of Wikipedia. The Samuel Shaw in this anecdote is assuredly not the young artillery officer from Boston.)

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