Revolutionary War letter book, incl. eyewitness accounts from Valley Forge, White Plains, Rhode Island, and many more, with emphasis on military hospitals
A book of handwritten transcribed letters carried through the Revolutionary War by a Continental Army infantryman named Minne Voorhees from New Brunswick, New Jersey. The letters, including those sent and received by Voorhees, were written between 1776 and 1783 while he was stationed at Valley Forge, West Point, and other places, while he served as commissary for the medical department.
[REVOLUTIONARY WAR]. Bound manuscript notebook. Largely letters sent and received by Minne Voorhees, 1776-1792. 240 pp., 8" x 6.25"
Minne I. Voorhees (1753-1794) was born in New Jersey to Abraham and Maria Voorhees. In April 1777, he was appointed assistant commissary in the General Hospital for the Continental Army. In August 1777, he was the commissary in the General Hospital for the Continental Army and also served as captain and quartermaster in the Quartermaster General’s Department. In 1778, he served as commissary to the Flying Hospital in the Middle Department.
“This Book was carried through the Revolutionary War by Minne Voorhees / copies of letters, written by and received by him.” (p14)
Minne Voorhees to William Guest, February 23, 1777, Camp Valley Forge, in part:
“How various and complicated are the evils and hardships attendant on a state of war, and the life of a soldier—they are so evident that to you I need not enumerate them…but among them all, there is perhaps none greater, than being deprived of the conversation of old and intimate friends.”
“Tis true I am fortunate in the company of seven or eight young gentlemen who belong to the hospital and who are of the best sort …”
But the roads here are so excessive muddy that four days out of five it is almost as impossible to walk as it would be to fly.” (p15-16)
Minne Voorhees to J. Lyle, June 10, 1778, Camp Valley Forge:
“We have been in expectation of moving some time, but I fear our stay will be longer than I expected or wished. My apprehensions for Jersey and particularly for Brunswick begin to subside, and I hope the enemy will take another route than we expected, tho is still doubtfull. Every account from Philadelphia confirms that they intend to leave the city soon and by land, but whether to go to N.York or come out and give us Battle is uncertain. I wish it may be the latter. Our army mov’d out of their huts yesterday into Tents, on account of better ground and water, and are ready for action. reinforcements are daily coming in from the southern states, and we gain strength daily from discipline as well as numbers. the disaffected inhabitants hang their heads more than ever and our friends are much elated. The British army must begin their operations soon or wait till they are reinforc’d.”
“Continental credit is rising, and reports say is as good in the city as in our own camp.” (p19-20)
George Wilson to Minne Voorhees, Simpson, Tate, and John Vredenburgh, August 12, 1778, Camp White Plains, New York:
“Be virtuous, be sober, let no vile Jade or abandon’d — tempt or invade your morals. remember that morallity and virtue are the greatest, and most accomplished blessings the human heart can possess and without which, life would be insipid and not worth keeping. these are wholesome precepts & worthy imitation. (p25-26)
George Wilson was a merchant from New Jersey.
“Jade” was a term for a prostitute or promiscuous woman.
John Vredenburgh of New Jersey served as a steward in the General Hospital for the Continental Hospital from January 1778.
Minne Voorhees to George T—, August 29, 1778, Camp White Plains, New York:
“… the army I suppose you hear often enough. They lay encamp’d at present on the same ground they did before the battle at this place in 1776 have about 2500 light troops near the enemy’s lines. they have a body of their infantry watching them, which is all they are like to do for a while. no talk of fighting, provisions plenty, Butter, Milk, and vegetables scarce …” (p28-29)
George Wilson to Minne Voorhees, September 5, 1778, Providence, Rhode Island:
“The effects of the late unfortunate affair, is still visible on the countenances of all ranks of people except the General himself, who to do him justice bears the whole with a degree of philosophy hardly to be credited. Health and chearfulness are his constant companion. he loves and is belov’d by his army. In short he’s a great, good, but unfortunate man. Our late retreat from the Island was conducted with such superiority of judgment, as history can hardly produce. Figure to yourself two army’s, lying within two or three hundred yards of each other, in an open
plain country, and the one’s effecting a glorious retreat in a moonshiney night, without the loss of a single centinel or article of stores. By the returns it appears we lost in the action of the 29th thirty eight killed, and 120 wounded. what loss the enemy sustained I can’t tell. We have open’d an Hospital in this place, and have under our care about 200 sick and wounded. Things are so exceeding dear in this place, that unless a speedy alteration takes place, I’m confident the continentals will all leave this place. the men have already mutinied (Genl Glovers brigade) and the officers have petition’d the Genl for redress, telling him they must and will resign unless their situation can be alter’d.” (p31-32)
Wilson describes the Battle of Rhode Island on August 29, 1778, in which the British in Newport attacked an American force attempting to withdraw from Aquidneck Island. American militia and Continental Army forces commanded by Major General John Sullivan had besieged the British in Newport in July 1778. Sullivan was supported by Generals Nathanael Greene and the Marquis de Lafayette. After the supporting French fleet was damaged by a hurricane, American leaders decided to withdraw. Learning of the planned retreat, the British attacked American positions without success. American and French forces then withdrew from the island in good order, leaving Rhode Island under British control.
Ebenezer Crosbey to Minne Voorhees, October 2, 1778, Paramus, New Jersey:
“Captn Christie the bearer of this will deliver your horse. two days after I arriv’d at the bridge I discovered he had the horse distemper, which join’d to the great variety of forage has been sufficient to prevent his thriving altho I have not been on his back nor any body else except John rode him once to New Ark, and since the retreat to keep him out of the way of the enemy. The detachment I took care of is releas’d by a regiment. I am detained here now by the wounded of Coll Baylors Regt I have wrote to Doctor Cochran for orders either to continue with them or return to camp.”
“these curs’d retreats are attended with too much fatigue to our department. (p34-35)
Ebenezer Crosby (1753-1788) of Connecticut graduated from Harvard College in 1777 and was the surgeon to General George Washington’s Headquarters. He studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1780.
Minne Voorhees to George Wilson, October 9, 1778, Quaker Hill, Rhode Island:
“The day I recd your letter we had orders to send off all the sick of the army which were 1100—Crosbey was gone to Jersey. The night following Campbell was laid up by a fall from horse, Simpson & Tate had both join’d Regts In three days time we got off the sick, and the next the army moved. after a verry confus’d march we arriv’d at Fredericksburgh from where after laying a week expecting hourly to move...by Doctor Campbells order we moved to this place and have since been busily employ’d in opening a verry good hospital, and opertunity not offering to send to providence, beside daily expecting your return.”
“Your character of the General gives me great pleasure, as it must every friend to America. I never fear’d the want of soldiers if we had but officers and am confident that a great and good man (tho he may sometimes yet) cannot always be unfortunate.” (p35-37)
Minne Voorhees to John Campbell, October 29, 1778, Philadelphia:
“I am happy you got the Potatoes so cheap, as they can’t be bought for that between here and there. I am also verry happy the accompts stand so well …” (p39-40)
John Campbell to Minne Voorhees, October 29, 1778, Quaker Hill, Rhode Island:
“The Dysentery and putrid fever rages in our hospital and carry off more than is for our honour.”
“no news of the enemy to be depended on, tho it is generally thought they will leave the continent this fall, but I think not.” (p40-41)
Minne Voorhees to Dr. John Cochran, November 16, 1778, Quaker Hill, Rhode Island:
“I embrace this oppertunity to inform you that I am at last returned to this place. I was unexpectedly detain’d at Philadelphia, for want of money, and Mr Morris not being in town, and was oblig’d to come at last without settling my accompts.”
“I bought the Negro and have got a bill of sale for him, for 150£. Levinces Clarkson offers 500£ for your house it is taking damage fast, and as it is continually made use of as a barrack—it cant be prevented—think if you can get 650£ you had better sell it.” (p43)
Dr. John Cochran (1730-1807) of Pennsylvania was appointed the surgeon general in the General Hospital of the Middle Department in April 1777. In October 1780, he was appointed Chief Physician and Surgeon General to the Continental Army and Director General of the Hospitals of the United States, a position he held until 1783.
George Wilson to Minne Voorhees, January 6, 1779, Philadelphia:
“Mr Shippen return’d to town a few days since. I waited on him yesterday. Am to get your money the later end of this week, as Congress have supply’d him bountifully to pay those debts contracted before the first of March and shall take care to remit it you pr first safe oppertunity.” (p44)
Dr. William Shippen Sr. (1712-1801) of Philadelphia was appointed senior surgeon of the Flying Hospital for the Middle Department in April 1777.
George Wilson to Minne Voorhees, January 8, 1779, Philadelphia:
“I am happy ’tis in my power to remit you the four hundred dollars, tho not in so good bills as I could have wish’d. however they were the only ones I could get. every paymaster is furnish’d with great plenty of them, therefore we must accept of do or none at all. perhaps tis not generally known in and about camp, that those two emissions are called in (vi. 20th May 1777 and 11th April 78) and you may pass them with little difficulty. should you not succeed loan office certificates are always ready for them. Congress are wise. To me it appears verry arbitrary, because all our paper currency may be good for nothing in like case.” (p47)
George W. Campbell to Minne Voorhees, January 23, 1779, Philadelphia:
“A report circulates in town that the enemy expect a reinforcement of thirty thousand Russians in the spring. it is not much credited except by the Tory’s who doubtless would fain have it so.” (p48-49)
George W. Campbell (1747-1798) of New Jersey was a surgeon’s mate from April 1777 to June 1780. He was promoted to hospital physician and surgeon in September 1781, and served to the end of the war.
Tsarina Catherine the Great (1729-1796) initially viewed the American Revolutionary War with keen interest. Holding a poor view of King George III and his diplomats, she refused a British request in 1775 for 20,000 troops and an alliance. After Spain entered the war in aid of the Americans, the British again requested Russian aid, this time for naval support. She again ignored the request and in 1780 proclaimed the First League of Armed Neutrality. She later tried to mediate an end to the war.
Minne Voorhees to George W. Campbell, January 31, 1779, “Head Quarters” (Middlebrook, New Jersey):
“By the time you return I shall be able to give you a course of experiments (made not all on myself, but in a pretty extensive practice) which may be of more service to you, than all the physical, Chymical, Clynical, and Anatomical lectures you have met with in Philadelphia…Doctor Brown was here yesterday. he quarters at Brunswick. he and Doctor Shippen are to begin lectures here this month.”
“Foreign news we have none of consequence. We were alarm’d the other night by a movement of the enemy on staten Island. In camp all live free, easy, and sociably.” (p49-52)
The Continental Army spent the winter of 1778-1779 at Middlebrook, New Jersey, fewer than ten miles from Voorhees’s home in New Brunswick, while the majority of the British army was in New York City. Arriving by late November 1778, the Continental soldiers constructed cabins from logs covered with clay. They closed the camp in early June 1779, when Washington led his army to Highlands, New York.
Minne Voorhees to his cousin Miss F. L. Voorhees, June 15, 1779, Smiths Clove [modern Monroe], New York:
“I now find myself in a country which seems created for nothing but the clashing of arms, and the din of war, where rugged mountains unwieldy rocks and dreadful precipices are the continued objects that present themselves to the wandering Eye.”
“there is no prospect of the army’s coming to action, so that god only knows how long we shall continue in this wretched place.”
Minne Voorhees to his sisters, B. and A. Voorhees, June 14, 1779, Smiths Clove:
“I was immediately reduc’d to the necessity of taking quarters in a Tent, which after just leaving home was far from being agreeable, yet by no means so hard as being oblig’d to breakfast and sup on Tea and chocolate without milk, and unleavened cakes, and dinen on Beef & nothing but Pork for sauce, with a hard chest & matrass to be on instead of a Bed. But this is the common reward of us who sacrifice all domestic happiness to the service of our country.” (p61)
John Campbell to Minne Voorhees, June 27, 1779, Otter Creek:
“About a dozen chickens, and five or six old fowls, are now parading about my store. I can’t keep them out, have been up two or three times cursing and schewing them about …” (p63-64)
Luisa to Minne Voorhees, July 5, 1779, Morris Town, New Jersey
“from the many advantages gentlemen have in education & many other respects, they are far the most agreable & valueable society.” (p65-67)
George Wilson to Minne Voorhees, July 23, 1779, Wioming, Pennsylvania:
“The celebrated Waynes victory reach’d us yesterday at a place called the shawenese flats, a spot whose natural beautys exceed all description. tis a spacious plain four miles square incircle’d with high mountains. The susquehannah glides thro the middle of it. it is more level than imagination can paint, and is famous for a battle fought between two nations of Indians. tradition reports six hundred to have fell on the spot.” (p71-72)
On July 16, 1779, Continental soldiers under the command of Gen. Anthony Wayne attacked the British outpost at Stony Point, New York, thirty miles north of New York City, and ten miles south of West Point. The Americans quickly captured the garrison and more than five hundred prisoners, and the victory provided a much-needed morale boost to the Continental Army.
Seven years later, Col. Timothy Pickering described the Shawnee Flats or Shawnee Plains (on the Susquehanna River near modern Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) as “the most beautiful tract of land my eyes ever beheld! The soil appears to be inexhaustibly fertile, and, though under very slovenly husbandry, the crops were luxuriant, and the Indian corn and grass of the richest green.”
Minne Voorhees to George Wilson, August 15, 1779, West Point, New York:
“When I returned to the clove I found the Army had moved to this place, which tho I had on seeing it before, pronounced it the worst in being, yet at this time, when I was weary of the world, and wanted to get as far out of it as possible, it was a welcome retreat. If I had room I would attempt a description of this spot, which though buried among mountains, has still some romantic beautys, and the works erecting on it will I suppose make it of importance.”(p75)
Minne Voorhees to George Wilson, August 1779, West Point, New York:
“… tis impossible to get out except by the river, which making an elbow forms West Point, on the extremity of which stands fort Arnold. Fort Putnam is on the brink of the mountain about five hundred paces back of fort Arnold. two hundred paces back of that is a large redoubt call’d the volunteers commanding the ground in the rear, and 100 on the right is fort Webb
“Under the walls of fort Arnold are three batterys, and a chain across the river to an Island call’d constitution Island, seperated from the main by a large marsh and a creek, and well fortify’d with forts batterys &c The heights on the other side of the river, beyond constitution Island are fortify’d with large redoubts, which as I have never visited, I can say no more about. We have encamp’d on this side the river, which is our department. The Pennsylvania and Maryland lines, eight Regiments of Massachusetts, the light Infantry, and a numerous train of artificers. The Virginias lay at Ramapough. The troops are healthy our business regular and consequently easy, no violent feuds or animosities among us.”
“The news of the day is, That a fleet of the enemy’s transports arriv’d at New York a few days since with a reinforcement of 5000 men. That Congress have rais’d the retain’d rations to 100 Dolls per month each. That the privates are to receive 10 Dolls with their former pay.” (p75-77)
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia was a moral fable by Samuel Johnson, published in two volumes in 1759 in England and 1768 in America. Because Johnson was a strong opponent of slavery, praised by abolitionists, emancipated slaves sometimes adopted the name “Rasselas.”
The Continental Army first occupied West Point, New York, in January 1778, making it the oldest continually operated Army post in the United States. From 1778 to 1780, Polish engineer Tadeusz Kosciuszko supervised the construction of the garrison defenses. In August 1780, Benedict Arnold was appointed commander of West Point, including Fort Arnold, which had been named in his honor more than a year earlier. Within two months, Arnold’s treachery at offering to turn over West Point to the British had been revealed, and he had fled to the British in New York. Fort Arnold was promptly renamed Fort Clinton.
Minne Voorhees to Luisa, October 18, 1779, [West Point, New York?]:
“We are much hurry'd in preparing for a movement toward New York, which is to take place as soon as the count De Estaing arrives.” (p79)
Count d’Estaing (1729-1794) was a French general and admiral who led a French fleet to aid the Americans. After the failure of the siege of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1778, d’Estaing aided Americans in the siege of Savannah in September and October 1779. After the successful capture of Savannah, d’Estaing was to aid General Washington’s army in capturing New York City. Instead, d’Estaing, twice wounded in the assault on Savannah, lifted the siege there after the assault failed and returned to France in 1780.
Minne Voorhees to Polly S?, November 1779, West Point, New York:
“The melancholy account of Captain Voorhees’s death reach’d me a few days after it happen’d, though I could only learn the particulars from uncertain reports, but I soon found it too true and that he who I expected to embrace in peace & happiness was no more in this world”
Elizabeth Bennet to Minne Voorhees, November 13, 1779, New Brunswick, New Jersey:
“We have been much distressed, with fear of the enemy: they were once verry near us, but were not permited to come into the town; but the horrid murders they commited seem to strike us all with terror.
“I believe there never was a more distressing day in Brunswick--our cousin Peter being so shockingly murdered and butchered, caus’d great and general mourning he was buried with the honours of war, and a great number of people attended at the funeral.”
Elizabeth Voorhees Bennet (1756-1818) was Minne Voorhees’s sister. She married James Bennet in New Brunswick.
A. Voorhees to Minne Voorhees, November 14, 1779, New Brunswick, New Jersey:
“No doubt you have heard before this of the enemy’s excursion into Jersey. they landed at the blazing star, and got to quibble town before they were discover’d, from this they proceeded to Boundbrook where the burnt some forrage, provided for the army, and plunder’d Coll Van Thorn, then to rariton, where they burnt, the church and destroy’d five or six flat bottom’d boats, then to millstone, where they burnt the courthouse and reliev’d two prisoners. they then came on toward Brunswick, but our militia having notice of their coming that way, about thirty of them waylaid them in the woods, and as they past our men fired on them which put them in great confusion, and they took the Coll and three men prisoners, and killed one man. this I believe prevented them from coming into town. they came down as far as Mr Guests and so crossed the fields to John Voorhees, where they enquir’d the way to south river. The distress in town was verry great, some run off with what little they could carry with them, while others staid and expected to submit to their mercy. But all our distress would have been trifling, had it not been for that melancholy affair of Captn Voorhees being murdered in such an inhuman manner, the verry recollection of which is horrid, but it seemed a satisfaction to his friends since it must be so that it happened near home. It is remarkable that after runing so many risques, he must yet come to his native place, there to be butchered by those wretches who surely have not the least spark of humanity.”
Captain Peter Voorhees (1758-1779) had been a 2nd Lieutenant in 1775, promoted to 1st Lieutenant in 1776, and to Captain in 1777. He was a cousin of Minne Voorhees.
In October 1779, John Graves Simcoe (1752-1806) led a group of 80 mounted British soldiers and local loyalists in an attack on central New Jersey from southern Staten Island. It became known as Simcoe’s Raid and led to the destruction of American supplies, the release of Loyalist prisoners, and the death of Peter Voorhees. After Simcoe’s group came to the outskirts of New Brunswick, the local militia under Captain Moses Guest fired on them, killing Simcoe’s horse and resulting in his capture. As other mounted militia, including Captain Peter Voorhees, pursued the loyalist horsemen, they turned and attacked, mortally wounding or killing Voorhees.
The death of Captain Voorhees became notorious among Americans for the brutality of his murder. Lt. Col. Henry Dearborn describes the incident in his journal on October 28: “Capt Van Voras being further advanced than any other, & his hors being very much fatigued was overtaken by the Enimy & obliged to surrender himself prisoner; the party that took him conveyed him to the main party & after examining him, fell to hacking him with their Swords in sight of Capt Wool & others of his party; after satisfying their more then Savage Spite they left him expiring on the ground. Capt Wool & some others immediately rode up to him & found him cut & hack’d in a most barbarous manner, his arms cut off, his head cut to pieces, & in fact appeerd to have been massacred by the most cruel Savages, this was done by the humane Britons, let every Briton blush at the idea.” Historians have since suggested that this account may be somewhat fanciful, as Dearborn was not an eyewitness and had just returned from a long campaign against the Iroquois; however, the newspapers of the time did report on the brutality of the murder. Loyalist press insisted that Voorhees was killed in combat.
Polly S. to Minne Voorhees, December 6, 1779:
“But in the height of my afflictions it is a beam of comfort to my distressed soul, that he fell in defence of his bleeding country, covered with honours, and lamented by all that knew him.” (p87-88)
Polly S. was Captain Peter Voorhees’s fiancé.
Minne Voorhees to ? Goodwin, January 19, 1780, Morristown, New Jersey:
“We have just returned from an empty expedition to Staten Island in which I got almost froze.”
George W. Campbell to Minne Voorhees, November 4, 1780, Philadelphia:
“The fourth day after I left you I waited on the clothier Mr McCombs at Princeton; no cloathing or money, but the Assembly were to meet the next week and application to be made to them; in the meant time Freehold was an object of attention and accordingly visited. this being over, returned to Princeton again; the Assembly had not made a house; a few curses on hard fate ensued. The next move was to trenton to wait on the Assembly and after two or three days got a memorial laid before the house representing our case, this being done I came here and have been this three days walking the streets freting and almost cursing and swearing; neither Shippen or Bond in town: the Board of war and Committee of Accts will have nothing to do with us. ’tis damned hard to work for nothing and find ourselves.” (p94)
Daniel Shute to Minne Voorhees, August 16, 1783, Weymouth, Massachusetts:
“give me every intelligence respecting the army, for which I retain a very sincere regard. let me be acquainted with Hospital matters as I am you know interested therein. I mentioned in my letter of the 14th that I had gone into business in this place. I can hardly tell you how much I like the practice of physic in private life as I have not yet had a sufficient trial. It is at this time very healthy in the country. No disorder particularly prevails except for measles and that in the country does not afford much practice, they prove mortal in Boston.” (p12-13)
Daniel Shute (1758-1829) of Massachusetts commanded a company during the siege of Boston and soon after became a surgeon’s mate in the Hospital Department. In 1777-78, he was aide-de-camp to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln and surgeon at the close of the war.
Daniel Shute to Minne Voorhees, March 4, 1784, Weymouth, Massachusetts:
“I continue still at Weymouth in the practice of physic & surgery. our profession is very much crowded not only in this neighbourhood but throughout the commonwealth; it has for several years past and still continues to be very healthy.”
“I was much obliged by your information concerning Hospital matters. before I received your letter I wrote to you and Doctor Townsend enclosing my account for 81 which Dr Townsend has since informed me you recd before he left camp. If you settle it I wish you would give me as early information as you can.”
“The Definitive treaty of peace having been carried thro’ the necessary formalities, last friday the 28th of February was spent in celebrating the glorious event of peace in the town of Boston. a number of patients who required particular attention prevented my being there.” (p98-99)
Signed on September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolutionary War was sent to London and Philadelphia for approval. On January 14, 1784, the Congress of the Confederation ratified the treaty for the United States. Parliament did not ratify it until April 9, 1784, and ratified versions were officially exchanged on May 12, 1784.
Condition: There is heavy wear to the spine and boards and the hinges are cracked. Occasional spots of foxing and soiling to the interior pages. While most of the pages with handwriting appear to be present, several have unfortunately been removed leaving small stubs. Text is dark and legible except for a half dozen pages written in pencil.
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