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, May 23, 2021

“To return to a proper sence of his Duty to his Country”

On 23 Jan 1776, the New York committee of safety sent Dr. Azor Betts and two other men to the local committee in charge of Kingston in Ulster County.

The provincial committee told their colleagues to lock those men in the town jail since their “wicked practices forbid their being permitted to go at large.”

In the case of Dr. Betts, the “wicked practices” appear to have been saying nasty things about the New York committee of safety and other Patriot authorities.

Kingston’s jail was in the part of town that later broke off as Esopus, the original Native name for the area. On 20 February Dr. Betts sent a petition to the New York provincial congress from “Esopus Gaol”:
your Petitioner fully sensible of his former indiscresions begs leave to return to a proper sence of his Duty to his Country, and your Petitioner further most solemnly assures the Congress, that it shall be his future most earnest study, to convince every individual of his most steady adherence to the utmost of his abilitys in promoting the Liberties of America.

That your Petitioner still flatters himself his crime is not of so atrocious a Nature but that his pardon may be anounced on a due submission, as such he most humbly leaves his case to their tender consideration and should he be so happy to experience their forgivness and protection, it will by him with a most thankfull heart ever be acknowledged and your Petitioner as in duty bound shall ever pray.
The head of the Kingston committee forwarded that on, explaining, “we are entirely strengers to his former conduct.” Betts had “made offers to sign a Recantion and make oath for his futur behaviour,” but the locals deferred to the provincial congress about what to do with him.

Evidently the congress did nothing because a month later, on 25 March, Dr. Betts sent another petition in even more abject language:
I flatter myself my present melancholy situation will be a sufficient pardon for this intrusion but where can the wretched fly for shelter but to those where the power of extricating them is lodged, by the last Post Gentlemen, I troubled you with a Petition the purport of which I am willing most solemnly to adhear to, and as the inevitable ruin of myself and Familly must be the certain Issue of my Confinement, therefore trust to your Clemency for my Enlargement wch. if I am so happy to obtain shall ever with gratitude be rememberd by Gentlemen yr. very obedt. Humble servt.
AZOR BETTS
Dr. Betts’s pleas finally prompted some action, and the Patriot authorities released him in the spring of 1776. He later told the Loyalists Commission what he found on returning home:
About the time of his first confinment by order of the Committee, the Rebel Barrack Master went and broke open his house.

His Books, his Medicines & furniture were lost at that time. The damage done to him was at least £50.
The Continental military probably wanted Betts’s medical resources for their surgeons. After all, there was a war on. 

Dr. Betts was soon back to treating patients. In particular, as described yesterday, in late May he inoculated four men from the Continental Army against smallpox against Gen. George Washington’s express orders.

On 24 May the General Committee of the City of New-York summoned Betts to explain his action. He
allowed the charge against him, and offer’d in his vindication—that he had been repeatedly applied to by the officers of the Continental Army to inoculate them, that he refused, but being overpersuaded, he at last inoculated the persons abovementioned.
That might have gone over better if Dr. Betts wasn’t already suspected of opposing the Continental cause.

TOMORROW: The four inoculatees.

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