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, March 19, 2017

A Rifleman in New York

When we left Sgt. Henry Bedinger in mid-March 1776 yesterday, he and his company of Virginia riflemen had been ordered to march from Boston to New York.

He continued his diary, preserving information about how many miles the riflemen could cover in an early spring day and about the stops along the way. (When Bedinger noted a person’s name instead of a town, that was the tavern where the company stayed overnight.)
16th. Marched off to Deacon Ben. Woods the Hartford Road. 20 Miles, the roads were so Excessive Bad the Teams Could Not follow us. Staid awhile in Westborough. Saw Some warlike Stores, viz 17 pieces of fine Canon, two Mortars & 1 Cohorn—
Gen. George Washington had also ordered some of his artillery force to New York.

The relatively short distance that the riflemen marched on 17 March might have been because that was a Sunday. Or they might simply have taken time to resupply themselves.
17th. Drawed 6 Days allowance of Beef & Pork. Thence Marched to Mr. Sherman’s—7 Miles. Rec’d Intelligence that the Enemy had evacuated the town of Boston on Saturday after we Left Cambridge. Left a number of Canon Spiked up and Many other Stores. Left the town in Great Haste.

18th. Marched to Shumway’s—15 1/2 Miles.

19th. Marched to Woodstock—12 Miles.

20th. Marched to Wilson’s—25 Miles.

21st. Marched from Wilson’s to Hartford—17 Miles. This being the Metropolis of Conecticut, a seaport Town, Situate on Conecticut River. Very pretty place. Saw Some Regular officers [i.e., British prisoners of war] Taken at St. John’s, &c.

22nd. Took in fresh provisions, &c—112 Miles to Boston.

23rd. Marched from Hartford to Wethersfield, 4 Miles, thence to Wallingsford 22 Miles—26 Miles.

24th. Marched to New Haven, a large Seaport Town Beautifully Situated on the Sound, a Number of Vessels in the Harbour, a Brigg of 14 Guns on the Sound, and a Schooner fitting out of 12 Ditto.—13 Miles. Thence Marched to Millford, a small seaport Town Just fifty Miles from Hartford.

25th. Thence Marched to Stratford River—4 Miles, thence to Fairfield, a County Town, a place of Trade and Seaport.

26th. Marched to Norwalk, a small Seaport Town—12 Miles, thence to Stamford, fresh provisions. &c—14 Miles.

27th. Marched through Horseneck to Rye—10 Miles, thence to East Chester in New York Government—10 Miles—20 Miles.

28th. Marched Over Kingsbridge to New York—20 Miles.

29th. Viewed the City, the Numerous Canon Ready fixed. Every Street Towards the Water in all parts of the Town fortified with Breastworks, &c. East, West, North, and South of the Town are Forts.

Saw the King’s Effigy on a Horse in his proper Size on a large Marble Pillar Beautifully Gilded, Stands in Broad Street Near the old fortification in a Yard that is all picketed in with Iron palisadoes. Likewise Lord Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, in Broadway Enclosed in Like Manner. Saw all the Large Buildings, the City Hall, Royal Exchange, all the Beautiful Churches.
I love the thought of Bedinger, soldier from western Virginia, sightseeing on Manhattan.

That “Beautifully Gilded” statue of George III would last less than five more months. After the Declaration of Independence was read in New York on 9 July, the crowd pulled it down and converted most of it into musket balls. A few parts of the statue survive at the New-York Historical Society, as does the remnant of that statue of William Pitt, first Earl of Chatham.

At the end of June 1776, the Virginia rifle companies’ first enlistment period ended. Sgt. Bedinger volunteered to stay on, promoted to lieutenant. But he was captured at the Battle of Fort Washington in November and kept prisoner for four years. In March 1779, Bedinger reassured his mother, “I am much hardened and Can undergo almost Anything.” He was right; he lived over sixty more years.

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