Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Belcher and the Sarpent of Lake Champlain
Whether experimenting with demi-submersible warfare or joining a "Flash Mob" on New York's Bowling Green, Constant Belcher's activities in 1776 for the most part appear to have been undertaken in a volunteer or civilian capacity. The Belcher Journal records that our erstwhile diarist enlisted in his cousin Matthias Ogden's 1st New Jersey Regiment on January 1st, 1777, but until recently Larry and I were unsure whether he had any formal military service prior to that date.
Last week, however, we succeeded in deciphering a passage from the Belcher Journal that reveals that in the Autumn of 1776 he did, in fact, briefly join his fellow Jerseymen with the Northern Army, but as regimental sutler rather than a private soldier. Belcher's resourcefulness in keeping the supply lines open is matched only by an uncanny predilection for misadventure, but neither the successive loss of his various conveyances nor an encounter with a beast of legend managed to stay this courier from the completion of his appointed rounds.
"Sept 23rd  - Engagd To Day at New Ark by one Lieut. Costigen of the 1 st Batt'n Jarzy Line to go a-Sutling &etc to Ticonderogay thair being grate wont of Provision in that Quarter / Receipt from Colo. Whines manifest details, viz: 320 Rigiment'l Coats; 310 Leather britches; 200 Hatts; 300 worst stockins; 250 waste coats or Jackets; 400 linen sharts; 500 pear shoes; 300 cartouch; 240 bayonets; 300 stave canteens; 3 barrels Apple Jack; 2 cases Madeira; 3 pipes Wine; 20 barrels salt beef; 4 wheels cheez; 1 razor; 1 cake soap / Wair to find such Luxarays on short Notice I know not.
Sept 26th - Have securd fine sailing Garvey from a disaffected Person in Bergen to transport up ye North River / Taken on a Scot, one De Lance, to hand reef n' stear / Thair bein' not all that could be wishd in ye Provision Line have acceptd substitutes, viz: 133 coats of indiff'rent make colors various; 56 fleece britches with ye wool side in; 103 stripd Trowzers; 203 checkd ditto; 105 round felt Hatts; 136 leathern caps with horstail crests scribd Nova Caesaria; 25 knit hats broiderdJarzy Divels; 144 Mariner Jackets with brass buttons; 3 linen shirts; 250 dancing pumps; 240 belts with 3 old pattern 9 hole ord'nance pouches for each ; assorted drinking gourds; 400 belt knives; 30 barrels Apple Jack; 40 cases Maderia; 10 pipes wine; 10 barrels salt herrin'; 20 barrels oysters; 4 wheels cheez; half cake soap.
Sept 28th - This Day before dawn set out from deHart's Landing toward Pauls Hoek. Due to ye Ministerial shipping ran in clos to ye Jerzy shore / Ye tide did run to our favour / Receivd salut from our Forts Washington & Lee though came near to stove from roundshot landing close by / Had a running duello w/ HMS Rose on Tappan Sea, our swivel made but little impression an sufferd sum damage to the topside stores from her long nines, our fortune to have ye weather gauge & made Stoney Poent with out pursuit.
Sept 29th - This day did spend a-patchin' wholes below water with fleece briches.
Sept 30th - This day reachd Kings Town / Had naught but oysters & Maderia for belly timber / de Lance provd a steady fellow even with a pipe of wine aboard.
Oct the 1st - To Day made Greenbush /Gen'l Schuyler did urge us make haste to Fort George as Ticonderogay expects Burgoyne to come a-visitin'..
Oct 2nd - Disembarkd To day at Glens Foils ye head of navigation on this River. Thair being scarce transport did hire 40 teams Oxen paid with a portion of ye Regimental Supplies that were less needful viz: shirts, coats, jackets. Purchased also a fine amphibious Battoe fitted with axels, replacd ye Wheels with Cheezes as they fit naught on board.
Oct 4th - This day made Fort George hard by wair my Father fit with the Blues in the French War; found ye wheels of cheeze much reducd from ye bad road.
Oct 5th - de Lance made Grate slaughter of cattle now packd in barrels with ye herrin to make good our trifling losses.
Oct 6th - Set out on ye Lake to the North, making Sabati Poent by sunset wair ye bones of Jazrymen do lie thick below. Father lost his hair here.
Oct. 8th - By sum misfortune made sail from Lake George to Champlain not bein' apprized of the Monstrous rapids at La Shoot / all wrack 'n ruin below an' half drownded, ye Batoo a total Loss. /
Oct. 9th - much taken with selvage. de Lance decamped.
Oct. 10th. - Have selvag d a part of ye supplies, all in barrels filled with I know not whot/ As the Jarzy redoubt is but a short distance beyond Fort Ticonderogay have contrivd a flotation of barrels, tyd end to end with hempen rope/ Happily ye wind bein' favourable have made a Grate Kite from stripd Trowsers to make sail / The wind being sharp did miss landfall and carried far down ye Lake toward the Ministerial Navey.
Oct 11 - This day a sharp Cannonade heard from sum Island ahead, the wind slack an' kegs all strung out like to a coilin' Tale.
Oct 12th - This day thot to be rescud by Gen' Arnold coming fast up Lake with the Ministerial Navy at his heels but they scuttled too fast to hitch a ride. Ye gunboats of our invinterate Enimy now came upon me, but just then ye Wind lifted my kite and ye barrels most agitated / Now between us, perhaps, rose some fearsome Sea Monster for they hove to a-cryin' "A Sarpent!" & did make my escape/ Did make sail forthwith back to Crown Point but loosing barrels on every quarter had but one left at landfall.
Oct 13th - Delivered this day 1 barrel oysters and half cake soap to the Jazry Troops / Finding them most distemperd a-feelin' ill used by the poor provision made for their Relief by our State incommoded by rumour of Sea Monsters ye heathen in these parts call Tatoskok an' most direfully like a grate Sarpant/ Ye Troops now electin' to March to home when contracts are up next Month. Found pipe of wine floating below La Shoot, small compensation for ye hardships of this venture / Am resolv d to go no more into ye Grocers line this war while thair be Sarpents to contend with as well as Lobsters..