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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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Ens. Eld Stops into a New York Coffeehouse

After participating in the skirmish over prisoners in the Westchester “neutral ground” on 18-19 Jan 1780, as I’ve been describing, Ens. George Eld of the Coldstream Guards went into New York City.

He might have expected a respite from fighting. Instead, this is what he wrote in his diary:
21st. Rode to New York. At twelve at night entering the Coffee house I was accosted by Lt. [Kenneth] Callender of the 42d. Regt., (with whom I had no acquaintance) who insolently asked me if I would drink some punch—I declined the offer, on this he observed, “ubi periculum ibi est gloria” [where there is risk of glory] & asked me if I wanted a translation—

I told him, no, but requested an explanation—

on this he drew a small sword—

I also drew mine which was a very short couteau [dagger]—

he perceived the superiority he possessed from the difference of the weapons, which seemed to stimulate his cowardice to the attack which he began by two lunges, which having parried, with all the fury & vigor I possessed I returned by cutting at him, without paying any attention to a guard—

he retreated the length of the Coffee house—I had now beat the point of his sword down & intended to have killed him, but was prevented by Capn. Peerie, who seized hold of my wrist & arrested the stroke—

I told him his interference was unmanly & ungentlemanlike as the contest was not finished—by this time some officers had taken Capn. Callenders sword from him—I declared if any person presumed to touch my sword I would run him thro’ the body.—

Capns. Peerie & Callender next morning asked my pardon.—I afterwards was informed that Capn. C.— being an uncommon good swordsman often insulted strangers in a similar manner.—

The disgrace he experienced from this contest, in some measure cured him.
I can’t identify “Capn. Peerie.” It’s possible he was another British army officer, a British naval officer, a privateer commander, or a Loyalist officer.

Adding to the uncertainty is how Ens. Eld didn’t know the other officers’ ranks—he referred to Callender as both a lieutenant and a captain, but the only officer of that surname in the 42nd Regiment was an ensign. That reflects how British army company officers didn’t wear insignia showing their rank. Fellow officers were just supposed to know.

After the war, Eld had a copy Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton’s book about his southern campaign rebound with extra blank pages. Eld started to write his own commentary in that volume, as well as extracts from a journal. That book came to the Boston Public Library in 1879, and Eld’s writings were published by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1880 and the Boston Public Library in 1892.

1 comment:

AdamC1776 said...

A very interesting story