The 'Headers In Life & Legend
by Russell W. Knight
The Crossing of the Delaware
In Camp December 31, 1776
My Dear Loving Wife:
It's been a long time since I wrote you a letter. But I know you would want to know that I am tolerably well but not in what you would call a Comfortable state of Health. I have a bad Boyle on my right buttick. Coll. Glover who came over to look at it says he thinks it will brake soon and so do I for it is awful tender and sore. He says when it does brake it will leave me in Good Health. He says that everybody says that Boyles are Holsome but not Toothsome. Our physicker does his best to rid us of such humors by giving us Piddling Pills and drenching us with Bolus's Linctus Cordials, Powders and Elixirs but they don't seem to do us much good. Bout all they do is to cause us to spew up our money instead of the diseases that lay us low. And when we think how all of us are always ready to serve our Country and its Glorious Cause in the best way we are capable of it don't seem right for it is a Pernitious thing to be exposed to Fire and Sword one day and such eavels every day.
Mebbe I shouldn't complane too much for I am alive and that is something in a country where it is hard to preserve our lives and Health because it is full of the enemy and them cursed Cretures called Tories. But since I am still afloat though sprung between wind and water I now have time to send you a line or two and tell you of the Proseedings of the last few weeks before they slip my mind. Also my Affectionate Regards.
We all think we was favored to gett off of Longisland that Thursday night [August 29, 1775] cause Howe's troops had worked their way Round us till we had no sea room and was hemmed in on three quarters. I can't say how the Ginril felt but we was all Discorredged since we was tuckered out from digging and building forts to cover our heads only to find that the enemy had went and posted some cannon on some hills nigh us and made ready to Bombard us out of them. Then we was told by Coll. Glover that unless we was able to ease our way off the island and make shoar twas certain we'd have to face up to them in open field and Risk our Lives in a pitched battle. So when we was ordered to turn out with our Paks and every thing about 7 o'Clock me and Shucker figgered we was about to come to close quarters. But the Ginril must of had a clew to the weather for about 9 o'Clock we was ordered to strike our Tents and Pak up and march to the ferry as fast as we could.
When we gott there they put us on some battoos and said we was to ferry all the troops to the far shoar. We was able to do it because we worked all night like galley slaves and cause we was in a thick fog with the wind holding to the Norrid so the British ships couldn't brest wind and tide and take us prisoners. Twas a costly Retreet since Shucker lost his best Shirt and I lost a pare of britches and the Ginril had to leave some cannon behind. But we was in High Spirits when we made Newyork for if we'd ben took by Ginril How it would have wrecked the Desine of our Ginril.
After we showed them our heels and left the enemy stranded far astern me and Shucker and Lobscouse went to a Tavern only to find that if our Spirits was rased so was the price of the Spirits we wanted to buy. The grogshops was all asking 9 shillings Lawfull Money for a gallon of rum. We think tis a scandalous price to pay and unless Rum getts cheaper some of the men say they plan to take French leave. They say what good is Liberty unless you can get pleasure from it.
Soons we was rested the Ginril told Coll. Glover to march us down the coast where we run into some of the enemy at Frogs Neck [Throggs Neck] and had a hot battle. Next we footed it close to 200 miles in country that was full of Torrys hiding in woods and back of walls waiting for one of us to drop out of line to pump ship so they could shoot us dead. Shoofly lifted a cagg of cyder from a house which we dreened to the dregs but having no body it don't compair with Rum so by the time we come to the Delleware River we was worn to a frazzle for the going was bad and we was allways in a dust fog or pelting rain.
Ginril Howes chased us all the ways down and tryed to intersept our Crossing but we outrun him and then the Ginril outsmarted him by ordering some of the soldiers to pick up all the boats along the banks so Howes men jest couldn't lay hands on us once we made the far shoar.
When we was all across we camped in some woods in hailing distance of the shoar till Christmas night when Coll. Glover come and said we was to march to the river and ferry close to 2000 soldiers back to the Jersey side so they could attack a party of the enemy that was snugged down in a place called Trentown.
When we gott there we found Shoofly skootching down on the shoar by the bow of our Boat downing a dab of Rum now and then jest to wet his whistle and keep his Joints limber. He give me a Drink jest as the Ginril cums a kalumping down the banking and clambers in to the boat. It took a Lot of Doing since the Ginril is a big Slab Sided hulk of a man and carrys considerable Tonnage besides being draped in a Cloak and a Sword and a carrying a trykorn hat aloft. In fact he made me think of one of them Enemy merchatmen yawing and backing and filling like they does when they is a sailing in Ballast.
After we all get in I give a big Shove with the Oar and quicker as you kin Gut a Fish we are out in the Middle of the piddling Little Stream the folks down thisway call the Dellewar. Its chockerblock full of Isecakes. And all the jeezly Things do is to slambang in our Boat which is loaded to the gunnals anyway and what with the Ise and the bumping and our Oars ketching Crabs we don't hardly have anny steerageway.
And to make it worser the Ginril he does nothing but stand up big as Billy Be Damned with one Foot on the gunnal and the tother on a thot. Iffen you'd a seen him standing there peering ahead and straining His Eyes to cut through the rain that was pelting down and the Sleet that was biting his Face youd a sweared he was hoping to see the Second Coming of Christ or something. Or maybe he was thinking of them Hessian Slobs a drinking and a-Celebrating and a warming their Backsides by a Fire and a Wishing that him and us could be histing a few to.
When we was nearing the Shoar our old frind Shucker who uster be a harpooner on a whaler and was skootched in the bow fending off Isecakes and hoping we wouldn't gett Stove In he felt the Boat jiggle and rock and looked back. When he sees it was the Ginril a shifting his weight frum one foot to the other and coming close to Capsizing Us he letts out a yell. Hey You! He bellers, You fat-assed Lummox squat down or youll dump every Chrisly one of us overboard.
But what with the wind a howling and the sleet a rattling and the Ise a crunching aginst the Boat the Ginril didn't hear him. In fact he acted like he was Deefer than a gawdamn Haddock. But Hossface who was rowing midships-him that has the farm up nigh Darby fort and a facing Salem Harbor -- he seed what was happening so he pulled in his Oar and rammed it hard right in to the Ginrils belly Button. Naturlly the Ginril doubled his cloak which whas so big itd made a mainsail for Jack Selmans old Franklin and tween that and his big Cann youd a thought we was a schooner sailing Wing and Wing.
In no Time a'tall the boat veered around and there we was heading back where we cum from. But seeing what was happening our Helmsman -- that old Woman Chaser -- him that every body calls Shoofly cause they all remember the Day he was caugt flat footed in an Upstairs Bedroom and had to jump fast and even at that the Husband who had busted down the door was a heaving His Shoes past Shooflys head a fore heed hit the ground -- he sees hees gott to gett back on the course so he picks up his Legg and without a compass bearing or nothing he letts drive one of his punt sized seaboots for the Ginrils Behind.
But Hossface seeing it was about to land on the seat of the Ginrils pants saves Shoofly frum a Firing Squad. He shoved out his Oar and Shooflys foot sheers off to the starbord and iffn Hossface hadnt grabbed Shoofly as his foot sailed Past the Mark heed a pitched ass first in to the Delleware.
We was then close to halfway across and the Ginril what with the Pitching and Rolling and the Ise and the Current tossing us every whichway was a gitting a mite Green a round the Gills. So he sets down by Hossface-not that that pleased Hossface anny. He tole me later that he was afeared the Ginril might get seasick and not know enuff to puke to the looard. So he turns to him and says real perlite like -- Ginril he says -- ease to the looard pleas -- willya pleas-cause you smell of hoss and hoss manure and that reminds me of my farm on Noggs Head -- and I dont want to remember my farm nor Noggs Head nor them awfull smells what drift over from Salem and its stincking wharves.
The Ginril dont like it but he shoves over he being kind of Testy and not like being told to do this and do that by us Reglars and you kin see hees gitting madder by the minute. Not that we could blame him what with the Sleet slapping His Face and the Rain and Snow running down his neck and the Ise pounding agin the Boat and the Boat shipping water with every stroke of the oars. Besides he didnt like the way the boys was acting -- Shoofly and Hossface and Lobscouse and Shucker not beeing to keerful of how they talked -- a Swearing and a Cursing at the ise and the weather and all that -- Besides they wasnt doing no saluting nor was they paying anny attention to his orders or him. All of us figgered what with him not knowing the bow frum the stern twarn't no use to listen to him since he couldnt pilet us to the tother side iffn he tried -- especially in the peasoup weather that was hitting us.
So when Shucker who was gitting damn tired of shoving hunks of ise as big and heavy as a kedge anker away frum our bow swallered a dram of Rum to perk himself up swung round and says Here Ginril take a Nip --the Ginril gits maddern a wet hen.
Howsoever jest as he was a bout to blow up and blast him to Hell and Gone we grounds on the far banking. So Lobscouse being kind of topliftical and allus more'n willing to do a bit of apple polishing sprung a shoar and reached back to give the Ginril a handup. But jest as he reached out he slipped as the ground was cold and covered by a sheet of ise so that his feet shot out frum under him and him and the Ginril tumbled backasswards in to the mud and water. When he fell Lobscouse landed plum on top of the Ginril who give out a grunt that sounded for all the world like a puffin pig rising for air.
Seeing this the four of us -- Hossface and Shucker -- followed by me and Shoofly -- sprung out of the Boat and hauls them bothe out of the River. But twas sech a sight to see the two of them a floundering and a sprawling in the muck and snow and all covered with goo that jest looking at them set us laughing fit to kill. And that was a bad mistake. For it getts the Ginril as Hot under the Collar as ever Id seed him gett.
Well Sir he starts hollering and us Marbleheaders who had allus figgered we kin Swear and Curse what with fishing the Banks since we was 8 year old and baiting and gutting and salting a mess of slimey popeyed cod and haddock till we was willing to kick the bucket and turn up our toes and go jine Davey Jones and Rest in Peace in his locker was sure put in the shade. Not only did he lay us out a plenty but he tacked on sum words weed never heerd and sed if he had his way hed have every son of a bitch of us keel hauled and then shot. Then he says our Parence should a Drowned us in a barrel of gurry the day we was Borned. We didnt mind that too much so we didnt sass him back. But then he goes on to call us a passel of Stincking Hagdon Eaters.
Well with that we getts real good and riled for as you know Hagdon aint bad eating iffn you hold your nose and down it fast. And its specially good iffn its follered by a dish of codfish heads and rum to drive it home. So we yells right back at him and for a spell it looked like we was a going to have a real Ruskus what with all the Bellering and Cussing thet sprung up.
But lucky for us and the campane twas nothing but a sudden squall that blowed itsself out fast. In a minute or so the Ginril calmed down cause heed knowed us a long time and recalled how wed pulled him and his slewfooted troops out of one or two tight spots a fore this. So after heed swabbed the mud offn his wraparound and his britches and fished out his Sword he looked us over and seys-Oh Hell-letts gitt going. Then to show us he warnt mad no more he swished his Sword round his head and sung out DOWN-N-N-BUCKET!! jest like a boney fidey Marbleheader.
And then he bawled Come on Boys! Letts find us a few Beer bellies to stick!
So we all gott our muskets and formed into a column and set out on a course that took us headfirst into the eyes of a half gale that was coming in from the Eastward. We found it hard going since it was freezing cold and the air was filled with snow squalls and sleet which was bad since some of the brigades had men marching in their bare feet the Comissary not having anny shoes to give them. Seeing such things when you are fighting for a Glorius Cause makes it hard to be cheerful but they didn't complane much mostly because we was able to bolster their Spirits with a dram or two of rum. As you know Rum is a great help. It primes your Corridge and helps you keep your Spirits above water.
We was so long on the road that I thought we'd never rase Trentown but knowing that it was manned by german soldiers who are great guzslers and never march or fight unless they has plenty of Dutch corridge to back them up we pushed on till about daybreak when we come up on a pair of outposts. They fired some shots at us when they seen us but when we fired back they run for cover. In the square we found the germans falling in to a line so we opened fire. Then both sides started a hot fire which lasted quite a spell. But then one of our brigades set up some field peases and shot them full of langrage. This serprised the german officers so much that one of them blooed a horn and they all sirrended. We killed about 20 of them and took six Brass Peases, a big store of arms and blankets and 925 german prisoners. Coll. Glover says the Ginril toll him weed won a mighty victory and I guessd we did for Howes Army Retreated from all the places they planned to stay until the ise in the river was frose strong enuff to cross.
None of us got much sleep cause the Ginril picked Coll. Glover and us to ferry all the german prisoners and the stores we captured back over the Delleware so that it was near 2 days and a night fore we gott to our tents.
Now we are going to march again and since it is snowing and three o'Clock I am going to gett me a Moutfull of Vittles before we move. But you can tell all our friends in Marblehead that all of us from the Ginril right down to the last Salem swillbelly now has new Corridge and Resolution and will start off with a Spring to our Spirits knowing that our Cause will be crowned with Success.
I subscribe myself your loving Husband till Death.
P.S. All of us are Paked and ready to go but Springheel Doakes. He is Dead. We lost him jest after we beat the germans at Trentown. But he wasn't killed by an enemy ball nor was he taken off by a feavor or the flux. Him and Lobscouse was doing a little jubilating after we won the battle and they gott to bantering about who could Drink the most Rum. Springheel won. But the next day he Died. I want you should tell his Father this Sorryfull piece of news. But pleas tell him that when he died he was the First Man to outDrink Lobscouse since the regt left Marblehead. Lobscouse feels reel bad. He's complaneing that the Rum Springheel drunk cost him 5 shillings Lawfull Money a Quart and was hard to come by.
N.B. Some of the men are uneasy cause we have no bread and some are troubled by colds and the Pox. But none of us Marblehead Volentears have lost our Bowels for fighting our Glorious Cause so do not expect me home till we win our Liberty.
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