History of the Loyalists: the Story of Samuel Denny Street

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History of the Loyalists: the Story of Samuel Denny Street
James Hannay
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HISTORY OF THE LOYALISTS. THE STORY OF SAMUEL DENNY STREET. An Officer Who Was Active In the War of the Revolution. The subject of this sketch was born at Southwark, in the county of Surrey, England, May 16th, 1752, was educated for the law and became an attorney and solicitor in the court of Westminster. He did not, however, practice his profession long in his native country. In his own words he tells us that "from youthful zeal and predilection for his majesty’s service he resigned all professional advantages and came to America early in the year 1774 on beard H. M. S. Merlin, under the patronage of Admiral Roddam." Not finding his position quite suited to his adventurous disposition he early in the following year and prior to the battle of Bunker Hill left the navy and enlisted as a volunteer in the Royal Fencible American regiment, Lieut. Col. Joseph Gerham commanding. After seeing some active service under General Gage at Boston, this corps was, about the month of August, 1776, ordered to Halifax for the defense of Nova Scotia. Governor Legge of that province, in addition to the perils naturally anticipated from marauders and privateers which infested the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic coast, had serious apprehensions that some hostile demonstration would be made by the settlers around the head of the Bay of Fundy who were for the most part New Englanders and amongst whom there were many disloyal spirits. Subsequent events proved that his apprehensions were not entirely groundless. In order to provide for the protection of the loyal settlers and to preserve British authority in that section of Nova Scotia, Major Moncreiffe with 208 officers and men of the Royal Fencible Americans was dispatched from Halifax, May 18th, 1776, to garrison Fort Cumberland. Samuel Denny Street formed one of the garrison. He had already begun to make his mark in the service and the next year obtained a lieutenant's commission. About this time there began that intimate association as brother officers between Captain Gilfred Studholme and Lieutenant Street which subsisted until Studholmes death in October, 1792. THE FEW ENGLISH SETTLERS At the mouth of the River St. John suffered such loss and ill-usage at the hands of privateers and Machias marauders that the government decided to establish a garrison for their protection. Accordingly in the autumn of 1777 Captain Studholme, Lieutenant Street and about 50 men of the Royal Fencibles came to St. John, where, with the assistance of the inhabitants, they constructed a fort on the high hill overlooking the houses of the settlers at Portland point and it in honor of the then commander-in chief of the forces, "Fort Howe." Samuel Denny Street was a man who delighted in daring adventures and was in consequence frequently detached on special services in which he required some distinction. His exploits in arms were varied by an adventure of a more peaceful kind which befell him whilst stationed at Fort Cumberland. There lived in the vicinity of the garrison at that post a well-to-do settler, Elisha Freeman by name, who, with his wife Marcy, had come from Norwich, Connecticut, shortly after the close of the old French war in 1763. Their daughter Abigail, born in Norwich June 18th, 1760, was at the time the Royal Fencibles arrived at Fort Cumberland a blooming maid of 16. Her charms completely captivated our young subaltern, who thereupon laid siege to her affections and eventually bore away the prize. They were married at Amherst by James Law, Esq., a justice of the peace for the county of Cumberland. The services of the civil magistrate on this interesting occasion was a matter not of choice but if necessity in consequence of the absence of the Rev. John Eagleson. This unfortunate clergy man was captured in the month of November, 1776, by a marauding party from Machias, under the leadership of Jonathan Eddy, a former resident of Cumberland. Mr. Eagleson's loyalty had not been without its influence upon the community in which he ministered, and he was in consequence thoroughly disliked by the sympathizers with the Americans, particularly such men as John Allan and Jonathan Eddy who, on THE ARRIVAL OF THE ROYAL FENCIBLES, had to flee the country. Eddy in his report to congress speaks of the Rev. John Eagleson in not very complimentary language, terming him "the pest of society." After enjoying the rebel hospitality for 16 months, during which time he vainly requested to be exchanged, Mr. Eagleson had the good fortune to affect his escape, though at the hazard of his life, and returned to his old home; there, he says, "I viewed, with an aching heart, that naked spot where I before had possessions to the value of £500 pounds now destitute of a single bed for its owner." Lieut. Street’s oldest child, Aun Frances, born Jan. 4, 1779, and his second child, Thomas George, born Aug. 30, 1780, were baptized at Fort Cumberland, in their infancy, by the Rev. John Eagleson. Domestic joys, however, were net suffered to claim the undivided attention of the young subaltern. His daring and adventurous spirit rendered him a valuable man for special service requiring courage and discretion, and during the years 1779, 1780 and 1781 he was frequently detached from the garrison for this kind of duty. Quite early in the war some exploit of his had gained the approbation of Brigadier General Francis McLean, then commanding at Halifax. He was also strongly recommended to the general's favor by Capt. Studholme, with whom he was on duty at Fort Howe in the early part of the year 1779. The services rendered by Lieutenant Street, in connexion with General McLean's celebrated expedition to the Penebscot were particularly valuable. The British troops left Halifax the 12th of June, 1779, and with little loss effected the capture of Castine,— or Megabagaduce, as it was then called,— at the mouth of the Penebscot River. The pilots for this expedition wore obtained by Mr. Street who also supplied much useful information which he obtained by a series of excursions within the enemy’s lines. Had the British forces made as resolute an attempt to gain possession of Machias as at Penobscot, the whole district of Maine to the east of Kernebec would have fallen into their hands, and as the American writer, Kidder, points out in his account of the military operations in Eastern Maine during the revolutionary war, it is not improbable the north eastern boundary of the United States might have been placed at the Kennebec instead of the St. Croix. This supposition is fortified by the fact that the decision which eventually fixed the boundary turned largely on the question of actual possession. In order to pave the way for a proposed ATTEMPT TO CAPTURE THE REBEL POST held by Col. John Allan at Machias, Lieut. Street proceeded thither by night seized and brought off a pilot and obtained full information of the strength and situation of that post. On four different occasions he was sent by General McLean on confidential services between Fort Howe and Penebscot. Twice his retreat was cut off by the enemy from whom after a short contest each time he escaped but on the third attempt, which was in April, 1871, he was betrayed by the treachery of his guide and captured by the enemy with six men who accompanied him. General McLean, anxious to return Streets services, sent two prisoners, both captains, from Penebscot, in order to secure an exchange. He afterwards sent two others from Halifax, but failed in his object. It was subsequently learned that Col. John Allen had sent to General Washington a petition, said to have been signed by upwards of 500 inhabitants of that place, stating that Street was quite too mischievous to be set at liberty and requesting his detention during the war. He was also reported to the American headquarters by the Boston authorities as having given trouble to the Americans in effecting his capture and at other times. Inconsequence of these representations all hope of an exchange was barred. Having spent several months on board the prison ship in Boston harbor, Lieut. Street's patience became exhausted and he resolved to effect his escape. Accordingly, one sultry night in the month of August, with the assistance of one of his men, he managed to seize the rebel sentinel on desk about an hour before daybreak. Having bound and gagged their man, and possessed themselves of his weapons, with the help of others of his party Lieut. Street then surprised the remainder of the guard, consisting in all of a corporal and 12 men. One of Street's men then swam ashore and brought off the ship's boat in which the entire party embarked. THE REBEL GUARD were put ashore on an island in the harbor, and street and his men having landed on the main set the boat adrift and pushed through the country for Marble Head, whence they hoped to effect their escape to Penebscot. The day coming on frustrated all their pleasing anticipations of freedom. They were retaken by a party of their enemies and conveyed to Boston jail. Street was now measured for irons to chain him to the floor of a prison cell, but to his great satisfaction his enemies never carried out their intention of placing him in irons. He afterwards leaned that his good fortune was not due to any consideration for his own comfort, but to the firmness of General Bruce, then in command at Halifax. Street had contrived to send a letter to Lieut. Sutherland, of the Royal Fencibles, detailing his situation. This letter having been placed in the hands of the general he at once wrote to the commander at Boston his determination to retaliate upon the rebel prisoners then in Halifax jail any severities that might be inflicted on Lieut. Street, and as a token of his determination in the matter he returned the cartel without the usual exchange of prisoners. Lieut. Street was thus saved in a measure the severity anticipated at the hands of his captors, but suffered severely in other ways; his health, he says, was much impaired by "the putrid and offensive provisions" given him during his confinement in the town jail. Whilst in jail he made a second attempt to escape, and having been discovered was again removed for safe keeping to the prison ship. PROFITING BY THEIR FORMER EXPERIENCE the guard no longer remained on ship board, but in a boat moored under the ship's quarter. The prisoners then confined on board included the masters of several vessels captured by the American privateers. To them Lieut. Street confided his intention to escape at the earliest opportunity, but to his great indignation he found a serious difficulty in the opposition of his fellow prisoners. They assured him that the effect of his escape would be increased severity to themselves and that they could not consent to the execution of his plans. In vain did Street assure them he asked no co-operation at their hands but only desired them to remain passive, they remained obdurate. The feelings of the unfortunate young officer may be well imagined. In the memoranda, now in the possession of Collector Street, of Fredericton, and from which the sketch has been mainly compiled, he then expresses himself: "Disgusted by the selfish and ungenerous interference, where it ought not to have been found, I ostensibly relinquished my design." Having succeeded in disarming the suspicions of his companions in tribulation he found on opportunity to lower himself about 11 o’clock one night from the cabin window and swam off with the tide at flood undiscovered by the man in the guard boat and proceeding a mile up the harbor landed in safety none the worse for his long swim. He sought shelter in the homes of an Englishman on the river side, to whom he was known and by whom he was taken to a place of security. Four days later the good friend contrived to place him in safety on board a cartel at the mouth of the harbor bound for Fort George, Penobscot, when a few days afterwards he arrived in safety. He returned thence to the garrison at Fort Howe. Unfortunately for Lieut. Street’s future prospects, his friend and patron, Brigadier General McLean, had died during his imprisonment, [To be continued.]