History of the Loyalists: Lieut. James Moody's Narrative

Article Title
History of the Loyalists: Lieut. James Moody's Narrative
James Hannay
Page Number
Article Type
Article Contents
HISTORY OF THE LOYALISTS LIEUT. JAMES MOODY'S NARRATIVE OF His Exertions and Sufferings in the Cause of the Government Since the Year 1776. [Continued.] The above mentioned dungeon was dug out of a rock, and covered with a platform of planks badly jointed, without any roof to it; and all the rain which fell upon it immediately passed through, and lodged in the bottom of this dismal mansion. It had no floor but the natural rock; and the water, with the mud and filth collected was commonly ankle deep in every part of it. Mr. Moody’s bed was an old door, supported by four stones so as just to raise it above the surface of the water. Here he continued near four weeks; and during most of the time, while he was tormented with irons in the manner mentioned above, no food was allowed him but stinking beef and rotten flour, made up into balls or dumplings, which were thrown into a kettle and boiled with the meat and then brought to him in a wooden bowl which was never washed and which contracted a thick crust of dough, grease and dirt. It is a wonder that such air and such food to say nothing of the wounds upon his legs and wrists, were not fatal to him, especially as the clothes on his back were seldom dry, and at one time were continually wet for more than a week together. After Mr. Washington interfered he was served with wholesome provisions, and he was allowed to purchase for himself some milk and vegetables. The ways of Providence are often mysterious frequently bringing about its ends by the meet unlikely means. To this inhuman treatment in Gov. Arnold’s camp, Mr. Moody owed his future safety. On the 1st of September he was carried to Washington’s camp and there confined near their Liberty-pole. Colonel Skammel, the Adjutant-General, came to see him put in irons. When they had hand cuffed him he remonstrated with the colonel, desiring that his legs, which were indeed in a worse condition than even his wrists, might be examined, farther adding that death would be infinitely preferable to a repetition of the torments he had just undergone. The colonel did examine his legs; and on seeing them he also acknowledged that his treatment had indeed been too bad, and asked if Gen. Arnold had been made acquainted with his situation. Mr. Moody feels a sincere pleasure in thus publicly acknowledging his obligations and his gratitude to Colonel Skammel, who humanely gave orders to the Provost Marshal to take good care of him, and by no means to suffer any irons to be put on his legs, till they were likely to prove less distressing. Mr. Moody attended the rebel army in its march over the New Bridge; and had an opportunity of observing their whole line and counting their artillery. Everything seemed smooth and fair; and he fell himself much at ease, in the prospect of being soon exchanged; when very unexpectedly, he was visited by an old acquaintance one of their colonel's, who informed him that he was in two day’s time to be brought to trial; that Livingston was to be his prosecutor, and that the court martial was carefully picked for the purpose. He subjoined that he would do well to prepare for eternity, since from the evidence which he knew would be produced, there was but one issue of the business to be expected. Mr. Moody requested to be informed what it was the purpose of this evidence to prove? it was his well-wisher told him, that he had assassinated a Captain Shaddock and a Lieutenant Hendrickson. These were the two officers who had fallen fairly in battle near Black Point, as has been already related. The Ensign replied that he felt himself much at ease on that account as it could be sufficiently cleared up by their own people, who had been in and had survived the action, as well as by some of their officers, who were at the time prisoners to him, and spectators of the whole affair. "All this," said his friend, “will be of little avail; you are so obnoxious; you have been and are likely to be so mischievous to us, that be assured, we are resolved to get rid of you at any rate. Besides, you cannot deny, and it can be proved by incontestable evidence, that you have enlisted men in this state for the king’s service, and this by our laws is death." Ensign Moody effected an air of unconcern at this information; but it was too serious and important to him to be really disregarded; he resolved therefore, from that moment, to effect his escape or to perish in the attempt. Every precaution had been taken to secure the place in which he was confined. It was nearly in the center of the rebel camp. A sentinel was placed within the door of his prison, and another without, besides four others does around and within a few yards of the place. The time now came on when he must either make his attempt, or lose the opportunity for ever. On the night there fore of the 17th of September busy in ruminating on his project he had on the pretense of being cold get a watch coat thrown across his shoulders that he might better conceal from his unpleasant companion the operations which he meditated against his handcuffs. While he was racking his invention to find some possible means of extricating himself from his fetters, he providentially cast his eye on a post fastened in the ground, through which an hole had been bored with an auger; and it occurred to him it might be possible with the aid of this bolt to break the bolt of his handcuffs. Watching the opportunity therefore from time to time, of the sentinel's looking another way, he thrust the point of the bolt into the above mentioned hole and by cautiously exerting his strength and gradually bending the iron backwards and forwards he at length broke it. Let the reader imagine what his sensations were, when he found the manacles drop from his hands! He sprung instantly past the interior sentinel, and rushing on the next, with one hand he seized his musquet and with the other struck him to the ground. The sentinel within, and the four others who were placed by the fence surrounding the place of his confinement immediately gave the alarm; and in a moment the cry was general—"Moody is escaped from the Provost." It is impossible to describe the uproar which now took place throughout the whole camp. In a few minutes every man was in a bustle; every man was looking for Moody, and multitudes passed him on all sides—little suspecting, that a man whom they saw deliberately marching along with a musket on his shoulder could be the fugitive they were in quest of. The darkness of the night which was also blustering and drizzly, prevented any discrimination of his person, and was indeed the great circumstance that rendered his escape possible. But no small difficulty still remained to be surmounted. To prevent desertions, which at that time was very frequent, Washington had surrounded his camp with a chain of sentinels, posted at about 40 or 60 yards distance from each other; he was unacquainted with their stations; to pass them undiscovered was next to impossible, and to be discovered would certainly be fatal. In this dilemma Providence again befriended him. He had gained their station without knowing it, when luckily be heard the watchword passed from one to another—"Look sharp to the chain—Meedy is escaped from the Provost!" From the sound of the voices he ascertained the respective situations of these sentinels; and throwing himself on his hands and knees, he was happy enough to crawl through the vacant space between two of them, un-seen by either. Judging that their line of pursuit would naturally be towards the British army, he made a detour into the woods on the opposite side. Through their woods he made as much speed as the darkness of the night would permit, steering his course after the Indian manes by occasionally groping and feeling the white oak. On the south side the bark of this tree is rough and unpleasant to the touch, but on the north tide it is smooth; hence it serves the sagacious traveler of the desert by night as well as by day for his compass. Through the most dismal woods and swamps he continued to wander till the night of the 21st, a space of more than 56 hours, during which time he had no other sustenance than a few beech leaves (which of all that the woods afforded were the least unpleasant to the taste and the least pernicious to health), which he chewed and swallowed, to abate the intolerable cravings of his hunger. In every inhabited district he knew there were friends of government; and he had now also learned where and how to find them out, without endangering their safety, which was always the first object of his concern, From some of these good men he received minute information how the pursuit after him was directed, and where every guard was posted. Thus assisted, he eluded the keenest vigilance; and at length by God’s blessing, to his unspeakable joy, he arrived safe at Paulus- Hook. On the 6th of March 1781, Colonel DeLancey, the Adjutent General, requested Mr. Moody to make an expedition into the country for the purpose of intercepting Mr. Washington’s dispatches. He readily consented; and set out on the expedition the very same night and travelled about 25 miles. The following day he and his party kept concealed in a swamp. The next night, for it was only by night they could venture to stir, they had not gone far when the man who had undertaken to be their guide refused to advance a stop further. No arguments, no promises, no threats, could prevail with him to proceed, though it was at his own express desire that he was one of the party. Incensed at his being so perverse and wrong- headed, Mr. Moody in the first transports of indignation had actually cocked his gun in order to shoot him, but happily he instantly recollected that the poor devil had a wife and family who depended on him for bread. This restrained him; and ordering his arms to be taken from him, he was under the painful necessity of returning with him to New York. [To be continued.]