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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Saturday, May 22, 2021

“Azor Betts be sent to Ulster county jail”

As I quoted yesterday, on 20 May 1776 Gen. George Washington ordered that no one associated with the Continental Army should be inoculated against smallpox.

Four days later, Dr. Isaac Foster appeared before the General Committee of the City of New York and reported:
that information was given to General [Israel] Putnam, that several persons had been inoculated, at the house of one Fisher, in Stone Street, contrary to a resolve of the Provincial Congress of this Colony, he, the examinant (agreeable to Genl Putnam’s order) immediately went to the house of the above mentioned Fisher, where he discovered that Lt Colonel Moulton, Capt. Parks, Doctor Hart and Lieut. Brown had been inoculated by Doctor Azor Betts.
The committee already knew about Dr. Betts.

Back in January, Christopher Duyckinck, the chairman of the city’s committee of mechanics, had accused Betts of
having, in his presence, damned the Congresses and Committees, both Continental and Provincial, and said that they were a set of damned rascals, and acted only to feather their own nests, and not to serve their country; that they had shut up his shop, but that he hoped to see the day when he would shut them up, or overturn them
Duyckinck mentioned a “Captain Buchanan and others as witnesses to support the charge.”

Now Duyckinck was a radical. He himself had defied the committee’s authority, called one member “a usurper and a coward,” and even seized that man’s watch. But Duyckinck had then made some sort of partial apology (while still keeping the watch), and there was no question he supported the Patriot resistance. So when he pointed his finger at Betts, the committee listened.

Betts had come to New York from Norwalk, Connecticut, where he was born in 1740, the seventh child of Nathan and Mary Betts. About 1764 he married Glorianna Purdy of White Plains, and their first child came shortly afterward—or before, according to some online genealogies. By the time the war broke out, Dr. Betts was the father of several children and practicing medicine in or near New York City.

The committee summoned Betts to answer the accusation. He didn’t “deny the charge or desire any other witnesses to be called.” He said he expected Buchanan to corroborate Duyckinck’s testimony. The doctor’s only defense was “that he did not mean to include all the members of Congresses and Committees, and supposes there are some good men among them.”

Not surprisingly, that didn’t mollify the New York committee of safety. [ADDENDUM: And its journal shows members heard from other witnesses:
Capt. John Buchanan says he heard Azor Betts damn the Congresses and committeee, and say they had taken the bread out of his mouth; that his business was inoculation; that the said Azor Betts has taken great pains to prevent Joseph Hunt, an ensign in Capt. [Nathaniel] Tylee’s company, from taking his commission.

Peletiah Haws gives the like testimony as to Azor Betts.]
On 17 January the members resolved that “Azor Betts be sent to Ulster county jail, to be there confined in close jail until the further orders of the continental or provincial Congress, or of this committee."

Years later, Betts told the Loyalists Commission that he had been “confined by a Committee for carrying Intelligence on Board the Duchess of Gordon & Asia. [Gov. William Tryon’s base of operations in late 1775 and early 1776], and for attempting to spike same at King’s Bridge.” However, at that time he had reasons to burnish his services to the Crown. The New York Patriots’ records don’t suggest any suspicion that Dr. Betts was a spy, [unlike other men examined the same day]. Rather, the committee of safety locked him up just for saying nasty things about them.

TOMORROW: Dr. Betts in and out of jail.

(The image above is a broadside Christopher Duyckinck had printed in April 1776 during local elections. I have no idea what he was on about, but it gives a sense of the man’s political style.)

9 comments:

Selden said...

A great many loyalists in Fairfield County, CT (a dozen?) were accused of visiting Tryon on the Duchess of Gordon or Captain Vandeput on the Asia in late 1775 and very early 1776. The suspicion was less spying and more conspiring and then, recruiting for British service. A number of indictments survive in the CT state archives. I'm not sure what court records may exist in New York.

Mike said...

It could be related to the Provincial Congressional elections held in New York the day after Duyckinck's broadside was dated. Link to a broadside issued the previous week with a list of recommended candidates in the Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.10901000/

J. L. Bell said...

A closer look at the New York committee of safety journal shows that it heard testimony about men going to meet with Gov. Tryon at the same session when it considered Dr. Betts. However, no one accused him of that. So it was definitely a concern for the New York Patriots. Just not in his case, though he adopted that crime later.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the link to that April 1776 broadside about the New York election. I still don’t understand New York politics.

Mike said...

I don't either, and I've lived in New York since 1986...

ZombyDawg said...

Dr. Betts is my 4th great grandfather. His daughter Fanny Matilda Betts (born in New Brunswick) married Caleb Haskell, son of Patriot soldier Caleb Haskell of Newburyport, Massachusetts in March 1815.

Anonymous said...

It is no surprise that this happened in January. The Committees of Safety had been given license which they took as their Patriotic duty to harass, disarm, plunder, and imprison Loyalists by the Tory Act on January 2. Dr. Betts wasn't just damning the Congresses and Committees on principle. Duyckinck's accusation indicates that Dr. Betts was reacting to previous actions taken by the Committee.

"Azor Betts was next brought before the Committee, and charged by Christopher Duyckinck with having, in his presence, damned the Congresses and Committees, both Continental and Provincial, and said that they were a set of damned rascals, and acted only to feather their own nests, and not to serve their country; that they had shut up his shop, but that he hoped to see the day when he would shut them up, or overturn them . . . "

Les Haskell said...

Excerpt from the Intoductory Narrative of the book The Battle of Long Island
By Thomas W. Field:

Christopher Duyckinck paid no further attention to Congress, entertaining, as he had the undoubted right to do, a sovereign contempt for its authority. The Jocobin leader was not, however, averse to using the power of the Congress whose authority he derided, to crush a tory enemy; for the journals of the Committee of Safety record, that on the 17th of January he brought before it an unhappy loyalist, charged with the heinous crime of cursing the Congress with a heartiness which, in one of his proclivities, indicated a dangerous enmity. This was a liberty which Duyckinck reserved to himself; and the pestilent tory was laid by the heels for assuming the royal prerogative.

The half crazed tory shopkeeper [doctor], who had been ruined by one of the military measures of Congress, admitted his disrespectful objurations, and it was therefore

"Resolved, That the said Azor Betts be sent to Ulster county jail, to be there confined in close jail until the further orders of the continental or provincial Congress, or of this committee."

Kingston jail was at this time crowded with fever-stricken and famishing prisoners, and it is probable that the profane Azor Betts took his portion there as just punishment for a contempt of Congress, which Christopher Duyckinck had proclaimed with impunity.

J. L. Bell said...

One of Dr. Betts’s complaints reveals that the business the Patriot government had barred him from was smallpox inoculation. Evidently that was the lucrative part of his practice.