Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - September - 2004 Issue

American Revolution Manuscripts<br>From Joseph Rubinfine

0906

Three letters from Revolutionary War soldier Charles Moile Talbot.


Item 49 offers some interesting correspondence from the British point of view from just before the outbreak of the Revolution. Thomas Hutchinson, Massachusetts Colonial Governor who had recently been replaced, writes from London to Harrison Gray, a colonial official in Massachusetts. Hutchinson is conciliatory, saying that England wants to resolve their differences with the colonists in a generous way, and expresses the hope "that they may terminate in peace, and restore us to the state we were in ten years ago..." Gray's response, a month later in February of 1775, is anything but conciliatory. Gray states that despite the colonists claim to still being loyal to the King, "they give no other evidence of their loyalty, than by disobeying his laws abusing his ministry insulting his representatives and condemning the authority of his Parliament." Gray concludes (not incorrectly) that they no longer want to be ruled by the King, and goes on to say that they will continue to do evil if England does not respond strongly and swiftly. "In that I tremble when I think of the destruction and misery which awaits this once happy and flourishing people (who enjoy more liberty and freedom than any nation under heaven), which nothing short of a due submission to the authority of the parliament of great Britain can avert..." Perhaps Gray overestimated England's power just a bit. Both Harrison and Gray would be named in the Massachusetts Banishment Act of 1778, an act which would forcibly remove them were they to be found in the state, and if they returned after being removed, executed the second time. $10,000.

Banishment wasn't the only punishment suffered by those who found themselves on the wrong side of the Revolution. Item 90 is a 1781 seizure of land owned by loyalist Charles Ward Apthorp by the Attorney General of Massachusetts. Apthorp was a large landowner who aligned himself with the losers and paid dearly for his mistake. $1,000.

While the officers and political leaders get most of our attention, there is nothing more poignant, and as realistic a portrait of war, than the letters of its soldiers. Literacy being what it was then, there aren't a lot of soldiers' letters floating around from the Revolutionary War. Here are three letters to his father from an enlisted man, Sergeant Charles Moile Talbot of Virginia. In the first he speaks of a sad journey to learn more about the death of his brother. His brother John did not die in battle. Rather, he had come down with some sickness, and in just five days had gone from "hearty" to vomiting, fever, and finally death. "My eyes Sheds Tears faster than my pen Sheds ink" the despondent Talbot writes. "Comfort yourselves as well as you [can] is my wish..."

In his second letter, Talbot states the time-honored refrain of "why don't you write me more often?" In his letter Talbot observes "the letter I Recevd of the 10th June Seemed as if it had Come from a part of the wourld where paper was Exceeding Scarce..." In pleading for more correspondence he points out what others may consider "no news" is "quite entertaining to me." In the third letter Talbot recounts his experiences at the battle of Germantown. A little research on the internet indicates that the soldier's father and recipient of the letter, also named Charles Talbot, was a man of reasonable means based on the will he left when he died two years later in 1779. I could not find any more on Charles the son other than he apparently died in 1797 at 40 years of age. These letters were reprinted in the William and Mary Quarterly in 1931. Item 105. $17,500.

Joseph Rubinfine is located in West Palm Beach, Florida, and may be reached by phone at 561-659-7077 or by email at Joerubinfine@mindspring.com.

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