Monday, February 23, 2015

Home Boy Belcher

When Larry Schmidt and I discovered the Belcher Journal in 2011, wrapped in stained Osnaberg in a dark corner of the Spanktown Friends Meeting House, we had our first introduction to this extraordinary person whose exploits during the American Revolution were previously unknown to history.  We continue the difficult work of transcription and interpretation, as the manuscript is in an appalling condition and the author's penmanship leaves a great deal to be desired. 

Even with this document in hand, his biography remains far from complete.  We have a tentative year of birth for Belcher in 1754 based on some oblique references in his account, but have yet to find conclusive evidence in the vital records (much of which went up in flames during Loyalist raids on Elizabethtown, New Jersey).  His family name has an honorable history in the State, but if he was truly kin to Governor Belcher then he must have been a very distant relation and in much reduced circumstances.  He also makes occasional references to the Ogden brothers Matthias and Aaron as "cousin", but here, too the connection is not thought to be of a near degree.

Much to my astonishment, however, while reading through hundreds of New Jersey runaway ads from Colonial newspapers, I have just located one that refers to Constant Belcher by name and almost certainly was he.  It is dated 1769 and advertizes the flight of an apprentice lad whose manner of dress has an uncanny resemblance to that affected by certain modern youths.  It also explains why Belcher, when he did enlist in the Continental Line, might have favored the 1st New Jersey over the 3rd, given that the latter was commanded by his former master.

The New York Gazette; and the Weekly Mercury  - March 3, 1769

Run away from the subscriber the 29th ultimo, living in Eliza.Town, Essex County, East New-Jersey an apprentice lad, named Constant Belcher.  He is a well set, lusty fellow, much pitted with acne, a great liar and very fond of strong drink, pretends to be a chantey man and much given to spoken verse; had on, when he went away, a hooded short capote of greyish Melton;  a good felt hat, cut Jockey fashion, which he usually wears with the fore parts behind, half worn blue duffel trowsers, much too large for him, very low in the seat, with blue check drawers under; leather shoes painted white, with strings in them left untied.  On his right arm, the letters D A W G, on his left the letters L I F E, pricked in with the gun-powder.  He stole and took away, a small skiff newly trimmed and painted, her wale yellow, with white spots under her wale; under the same a narrow streak of Spanish Brown, her stern yellow, white spots and two Bull’s Eyes forward, two felted dice on strings affixed to her prow; seats and benches of Spanish Brown and covered in a rough Shag, her inside payed with Turpentine.   Likewise stole and took away a servant lass, clothing unknown.  Whoever takes up the above apprentice and servant, and secures them, in any gaol, so that their Master may have them again, shall have a reward of 20 shillings, and 5 pounds for the skiff, and all reasonable charges, paid by

Capt. Elias Dayton

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