"We took Possession of the Town": Stephen De Lancey, Savannah Georgia, 1779
Long have I wish’d my dearest Cornelia for the Departure of a Vessel from this Place that I might communicate to you the glad Tidings of my Health and Safety but much more for the Arrival of one from N York that I might hear from you. How anxious every Hour passes that cannot indulge us with the Knowledge of the Situation of those we love, I flatter myself you have experienced. Tho’ my dearest wife I wish you all the Happiness that you deserve or any Being is capable of experiencing, yet I cannot help owning (from the Frailty of Human Nature) that I should not be pleased at the Idea of your enjoying perfect Satisfaction in my Absence. Your Affection is the great Object of my Heart and while I possess that it will always furnish those Sentiments which will render my Presence necessary to you. Never since I was yours have I met with so great a Trial of Philosophy. What pleasure the external Objects here might afford me were you present with me, I will not pretend to say, but a mere military Life is for me a very dull Scene. I may say with a favorite Author of Yours, the inimitable Thompson,
"All my Labour is to kill the Time,
"And Labour dire it is, & weary woe
Our Passage was long and Tempestuous, seldom fair for twenty four Hours together and the slow Mode of sailing necessary to keep a fleet from separation rendered it very disagreably tedious. (I was agreably disapointed in not being in the least Sea Sick). After we had been at Sea more than a Month we arrived at the Light House at the Entrance of the River Savannah, from whence we proceeded to a Place near the Town in flat Boats and landed on a Causeway in a Rice Plantation which was form’d out of a Swamp on the Banks of the River. This narrow Passage led up to a House situated on an Eminence very steep. Had the Rebels been there in Force with Cannon, it would in my opinion have been impracticable to have made good the Landing. In Consequence of the cry strong Ground, we should have been obliged to ascend in Opposition to the Rebels and by the narrow Passage thro’ the Swamp in approaching the Eminence. But from great want of Generalship they had but thirty men at this strong Post. We had a Captain and three Men of the Light Infantry of the 71st Regt killed at this Place when the Rebels immediately retreated. The main Body of our Army then advanced towards the Town, on this Side of which the Rebels appear’d with a good Front, and we expected they would have behaved better than usual but were deceived. By a quick and well conducted March of the Light :Infantry of the 71st and the New Corps, under`the Command of Sir James Beard, round a Swamp, the Rebels were so intimidated that they fled with the utmost Consternation, leaving us in quick Possession of the Town. Forty Officers and upwards of Five hundred Men were killed or taken in a Space of Time almost incredible. We took Possession of the Town with the trifling Loss I first mention’d.
The Town of Savannah is situated on the Banks of the River of that Name on a Sand Bank of which your Shoes are full in crossing a Street. The Inhabitants have been extremely wealthy, as appears from the great Profusion of Elegant Furniture we found in the Town and the great Quantity of Cattle, Hogs, Poultry etc. with which their Plantations are stock’d. Almost all the People had deserted their Habitations but are daily coming in and receiving Protections for their Persons and Property. The Government here established is to the greatest’ Degree lenient, so that I conclude it is imagined they will be sooth’d into a Change of Sentiments and receive Money and Property as Greater Goods than Rebellion and Poverty . Our Troops are extended in different Ports upwards of thirty Miles from the Town along’ the River. My quarters are Eight Miles from the Town-a very bad House but Plenty of Provisions. Colonel Brewerton is from the Regiment with a separate Command. At present not any Rebels are in arms in this Province. They have collected a small Force in South Carolina I suppose to prevent a Passage over the River. A Movement will soon take Place when we shall be sent, in Consequence of our Weakness to do Garrison Duty in the Town. General Provost with all the Troops from St. Augustine is but twelve Miles from this Place and expected before Night. Colonel Innes is Commandant of the Town here, for which Station he appears well adapted and gives universal Satisfaction. His Behavior is easy and affable and he dispatches Business in a very expeditious Manner. Captain Moore is Barrack Master, very usefull and also well adapted to it. I can at present communicate nothing of what is intended in the Military Line but by every Opportunity I shall inform you of all things within my Knowledge. I am now sitting with the Windows open without any Fire, although the Inhabitants have complain’d of the Severity of the Weather and I suppose you are ordering more Wood to the Fire.
The People here are sallow and in general disgusting. Pale faces and large swolen Bellies proceeding from the Fever and Ague seem to be the Characteristics of the Georgia Ladies and their Speech is so Negroish that I cannot help imagining that some of them cannot boast of a Number of Ancestors thoroughly White. This is not the Case with all; I am told they have fine Women tho I have seen very few. The Negro’s and Negro Women are inhumanly treated, are two-thirds naked, and are very disgusting to the Eye and another Sense, Tho I begin to be more habituated to the Sight, yet I cannot be to the great Cruelty made Use of to the poor ignorant Wretches. Indeed the Title of the Overseer is a sufficient Explanation of the Whole. He is stiled a Negro Driver. These circumstances of Cruelty to these People render the Persons who exercise it disagreable, nay odious to me. When a Set of People can sit down enjoying all the Luxuries of Life without feeling the least Sensation or Compunction for the Sufferings of those poor Wretches whose Lives are render’d Miserable and Constitutions destroyed for those Purposes, I must conclude them Obdurate, Selfish, and Unfeeling to the greatest Degree imaginable. At what an Expence of Life and Happiness do we eat Rice and Sugar! One thing more I must add, that their Diet is almost entirely on Rice and sweet Potatoes as they are allowed Meat but once a Year.
I am ever wishing, my dearest wife, to be able to send to you for your Use some of the Good things that we have in the greatest Profusion here and which I am much afraid you will want. Indeed it gives me great Pain to think that you want anything which I enjoy, for tho I am a great advocate for the Principle of Selfishness as the prime Motive to Action in every Body, yet I can so far wrest the argument as to wish you to enjoy every thing to satisfy my feelings. By the next opportunity I shall transmit a Bill for Money, as my Expences here are very limited, and happy I shall be to be able to furnish you with any thing for your Ease and Happiness which the Narrowness of my Circumstances has too frequently prevented.
Present my Compliments to your Mother and my best Love to Nancy and Tom. Inform him that I depend on him to oversee everything for you, tho’ I know his Love for you and Friendship for me will dictate the Utmost Assiduity for us; desire him to present my Love to Susan and tell her to prepare to romp with me when I come back. Remember me to Heathcote Johnston. and all friends. If Jacob behaves well, tell him I mention’d him.
God grant you my ever dear Wife uninterrupted Health and may you and my family be his peculiar Care and if it should be his Will to take any of our Children to himself may you be endued with Resolution to bear it as on you all my Happiness depends. I mean to write to Mrs. Cruger; if I do riot, tell her nothing but something unavoidable could have prevented what my great Attachment and her Goodness would always dictate.
I am My most dear Wife Yours