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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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

“Left her three years ago in a condition almost helpless”

Yesterday we left Eunice Hazard and her children in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1779 after her husband Thomas evacuated the town with the British military.

In February 1782 she described her situation in a petition to the Rhode Island Assembly:
that she is the wife of Thomas Hazard, late of Narragansett, now a refugee in New York; that the said Thomas Hazard left her three years ago in a condition almost helpless, with seven young children, one of them at the breast, and the rest unable to subsist themselves; and that from that time to this, she has encountered many difficulties in bringing up and supporting the said children, and hath at length exhausted all the resources in her power, and expended not only what remained in her hands of her said husband’s effects, but also nearly the whole of what came to her particular use from the estate of her late honored father; and thereupon she prayed this Assembly to take her unhappy case under consideration, and extend unto her and her children such grace and favor as may seem meet, and in particular to grant her that house and lot of land lying in Newport, which was her said husband’s late estate…
Eunice was a genteel descendant of Rhode Island founder Roger Williams, so she commanded sympathy. Pending their final decision, the legislature ordered the official managing the Hazard estate to give her the current year’s rent.

That vote was striking since the state had decreed in July 1780 that Thomas Hazard had “joined the enemy.” Which he had. He had supported the British army during the occupation of Newport by raiding the New England coast for livestock.

Furthermore, in that same month of July 1780, as Christian M. McBurney reveals in Spies in Revolutionary Rhode Island, Hazard had landed back in Rhode Island to gather information on the newly arrived French fleet. After four days stranded behind enemy lines, Hazard escaped back to New York. He then drew a map of the French warships and land defenses that survives in Gen. Sir Henry Clinton’s papers.

In September 1780, Hazard was setting up a military unit at Manor St. George on Long Island. Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, Continental dragoons officer and spy manager, raided that site in November. The Americans carried off at least one of Hazard’s soldiers—a black man named Misick Parlay.

Despite her husband’s work, in November 1782 the Rhode Island Assembly decided that Eunice Hazard could have his property. But only that part remaining after some was “surrendered to the creditors of the said Thomas Hazard.” And only after she paid the state for “a debt due from the said estate to Martin Howard, Jr.,” apparently the same man who had been colony’s stamp agent in 1765.

Several months later, the war ended. And Thomas Hazard decided to return to his family.

TOMORROW: So how did that go?

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