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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Friday, January 06, 2017

“Even the Carters could not shut their hearts against us”

As I described yesterday, John and Angelica Carter moved from Albany, New York, to Boston in late 1777, John aiming to go into the business of supplying the Continental Army.

Another large group of people made a similar journey a few weeks later: the “Convention Army” of British and Hessian prisoners of war after the Battles of Saratoga. Gen. John Burgoyne and his troops marched to the outskirts of Boston, where Gen. William Heath and the civil authorities scrambled to find them housing.

Among those prisoners was Baroness Frederika von Massow Riedesel (shown here), wife of Gen. Friedrich Adolph Riedesel of Brunswick, and their three youngest daughters. In Albany that family stayed with Gen. Philip Schuyler. After traveling to Cambridge, the baroness looked up Angelica Carter, the Schuylers’ eldest daughter.

In her memoir, translated from the German and published in America in the early nineteenth century, the Baroness Riedesel wrote:
None of our gentlemen were allowed to go into Boston. Curiosity and desire urged me to pay a visit to Madame Carter, the daughter of General Schuyler, and I dined at her house several times.

The city, throughout, is pretty, but inhabited by violent patriots, and full of wicked people. The women, especially, were so shameless, that they regarded me with repugnance and even spit at me when I passed by them.

Madame Carter was as gentle and good as her parents, but her husband was wicked and treacherous. She came often to visit us, and also dined at our house with the other generals. We sought to show them by every means our gratitude. They seemed, also, to have much friendship for us; and yet, at the same time, this miserable Carter, when the English General [William] Howe had burned many hamlets and small towns, made the horrible proposition to the Americans to chop off the heads of our generals, salt them down in small barrels, and send over to the English one of these barrels for every hamlet or little town burned down; but this barbarous suggestion fortunately was not adopted.
I haven’t found confirmation that Carter actually said this, but the baroness clearly believed he had. And if he’d said it in her presence, even as a joke, as the wife of a general working for the British king she had every right to be alarmed.
On the 3d of June, 1778, I gave a ball and supper in celebration of the birthday of my husband. I had invited to it all the generals and officers. The Carters, also, were there. General Burgoyne sent an excuse after he had made us wait till eight o’clock in the evening. He invariably excused himself, on various pretenses, from coming to see us, until his departure for England, when he came and made me a great many apologies, but to which I made no other answer than that I should be extremely sorry if he had gone out of his way on our account.

We danced considerably, and our cook prepared us a magnificent supper of more than eighty covers. Moreover, our court-yard and garden were illuminated. As the birthday of the king of England came upon the following day, which was the fourth, it was resolved that we would not separate until his health had been drank; which was done with the most hearty attachment to his person and his interests.

Never, I believe, has ”God save the King” been sung with more enthusiasm or more genuine good will. Even both my oldest little daughters [Gustava and Frederica, ages six and four] were there, having staid up to see the illumination. All eyes were full of tears; and it seemed as if every one present was proud to have the spirit to venture to do this in the midst of our enemies. Even the Carters could not shut their hearts against us.

As soon as the company separated, we perceived that the whole house was surrounded by Americans, who, having seen so many people go into the house, and having noticed, also, the illumination, suspected that we were planning a mutiny, and if the slightest disturbance had arisen, it would have cost us dear.
The house where the Riedesels lived in Cambridge and hosted this occasion still stands on Brattle Street, though it’s been moved and remodeled.

TOMORROW: Back to the Carters’ marriage, and the unveiling of John Barker Church.

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