Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

An Account of Operations in the "Neutral Ground" that Included the Area in and Around Pelham During the Revolutionary War

During the Revolutionary War, the area in and around Pelham became known as "The Neutral Ground" because it stood between two warring armies. The area was subject to devastating depredations by both armies.

In 1862, Hurlbut, Williams & Company published a military journal prepared by James Thacher, M.D., a surgeon in the American Revolutionary Army. That journal included a heart-wrenching account of operations within the Neutral Ground that included Pelham and surrounding areas. The pertinent excerpt appears immediately below.

"November . . . 3d [1780]. - A soldier has been executed to-day for desertioin and persuading others to follow his example.

A large detachment of troops has been ordered by General Heath to be in readiness, with two days' provisions cooked, to march on a foraging expedition, under command of Brigadier-General Stark. The detachment crossed the Hudson on the 21st instant, and paraded on [Page 236 / Page 237] Nelson's point, where they were reviewed by the Marquis de Chastellux, one of the generals of the French army at Newport. It is understood that the object of the expedition is to procure a quantity of forage from the farms on the neutral ground, between the two armies, towards King's-bridge. After the review, the marquis crossed over to West Point, where his arrival was announced by the discharge of thirteen cannon. The detachment marched about ten miles, and took lodgings on the ground in the woods, beside large fires. In the night a severe storm of rain came on, that drenched our troops, and becoming more violent the next day, rendered the roads extremely bad, and our march very uncomfortable; we reached North Castle, seventeen miles, and lodged in the woods, where our fires did not secure us from suffering much by wet and cold.

23d. - Marched to West Farms, near West Chester, within eight miles of the enemy's works at King's-bridge. Here we kindled numerous fires in open view of the enemy, and in the evening the troops were ordered to leave the fires and retire back about two miles, and remain under arms prepared for battle; but the enemy made no advances.

24th. - Another severe storm of rain, which continued through the day; we, however, began to march at sun-rise, on our return, but soon halted, and took shelter under the bushes near White Plains. In this comfortless situation, we continued through the day and night. The next day, the storm continuing, I was so fortunate as to crowd into a house with some officers for shelter. 26th and 27th, marched twenty miles each day, and reached our former station at this place before night.

The country which we lately traversed, about fifty miles in extent, is called neutral ground, but the miserable inhabitants who remain, are not much favored with the privileges which their neutrality ought to secure to them. They are continually exposed to the ravages and insults of infamous banditti, composed of royal refugees and tories. The country is rich and fertile, and the farms appear to have been advantageously cultivated, but it now has the marks of a country in ruins. A large proportion of the proprietors having abandoned their farms, the few [Page 237 / Page 238] that remain find it impossible to harvest the produce. The meadows and pastures are covered with grass of a summer's growth, and thousands of bushels of apples and other fruit are rotting in the orchards. We brought off about two hundred loads of hay and grain, and ten times the amount might have been procured, had teams enough been provided. Those of the inhabitants of the neutral ground who were tories, have joined their friends in New York, and the whigs have retired into the interior of our country. Some of each side have taken up arms, and become the most cruel and deadly foes. There are within the British lines banditti consisting of lawless villains, who devote themselves to the most cruel pillage and robbery among the defenceless inhabitants between the lines, many of whom they carry off to New York, after plundering their houses and farms. These shameless marauders have received the names of Cow-boys and Skinners. By their atrocious deeds they have become a scourge and terror to the people. Numerous instances have been related of these miscreants subjecting defenceless persons to cruel torture, to compel them to deliver up their money, or to disclose the places where it has been secreted. It is not uncommon for them to hang a man by his neck till apparently dead, then restore him, and repeat the experiment, and leave him for dead. One of these unhappy persons informed me that when suffering this cruel treatment, the last sensation that he recollects, when suspending by his neck, was a flashing heat over him, like that which would be occasioned by boiling water poured over his body; he was, however, cut down, and how long he remained on the ground insensible, he knows not. A peaceable, unresisting Quaker, of considerable respectability, by the name of Quimby, was visited by several of these vile ruffians; they first demanded his money, and after it was delivered, they suspected he had more concealed, and inflicted on him the most savage cruelties, in order to extort it from him. They began with what they call scorching, covering his naked body with hot ashes, and repeating the application till the skin was covered with blisters; after this, they resorted to the halter, and hung the poor man on a tree by his neck; then took him down, and repeated it a second, and even a third time, and finally left him almost lifeless."

Source: Thacher, James, Military Journal of the American Revolution from the Commencement to the Disbanding of the American Army; Comprising a Detailed Acount of the Principal Events and Battles of the Revolution, with Their Exact Dates, and a Biographical Sketch of the Most Prominent Generals, by Jame Thacher, M. D., Surgeon in the American Revolutionary Army, pp. 236-38 (Hartford, CT: Hurlbut, Williams & Co. 1862).

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