WHERE THE CLOSING DRAMA OF THE REVOLUTION WAS STAGED
During the entire period of the Revolution the country about Newburgh was an important centre of military operations. West Point was fortified in 1776, that the British might not be able to carry out their design of separating New England from the middle colonies. Many officers had their headquarters within a few miles of these fortifications. Lafayette was at the Williams House, three miles north of Newburgh, while Generals Green, Gates, and Knox were at Vail’s Gate, four miles south of the town. General George Clinton was at Little Britain, and General Anthony Wayne was in Newburgh.
Washington’s first stay in the vicinity was at Vail’s Gate, New Windsor, in the winter of 1779-80. His longest sojourn, however, was in the house which Jonathan Hasbrouck built in 1750 and enlarged in 1770. The best description of this substantial one-story stone house at the time of Washington’s residence there is contained in the ” Memoirs ” of Marquis de Chastellux, who was the guest of the Commander-in-chief on December 6, 1872:
The largest room in it, (which was the proprietor’s parlor for his family, and which General Washington has converted into his dining-room) is in truth tolerably spacious, but it has seven doors and only one window. The chimney, or rather the chimney back, is against the wall; so that there is in fact but one vent for the smoke, and the fire is in the room itself. I found the company assembled in a small room, which served by way of parlor. At nine supper was served, and when the hour of bed-time came, I found that the chamber, to which the General conducted me, was the very parlor I speak of, wherein he had made them place a camp bed. . .”
The records of the months when Washington was an occupant of the old Dutch house are among the most interesting of the war. For instance, on May 10, 1782, there came tidings of the arrival in New York of Sir Guy Carleton, the new British commander, who wrote that he desired to tell of the king’s idea of a possible peace, and of the attitude of the House of Commons. He closed his letter by saying, ” If war must prevail, I shall endeavor to render its miseries as light to the people of this continent as the circumstances of such a condition will possibly permit.”
Two days earlier Washington wrote a letter to Meschech Weare in which he seems to have anticipated and discredited Carleton’s word of appeal:
” They are meant to amuse this country with a false idea of peace, to draw us off from our connection with France, and to lull us into a state of security and in-activity, which having taken place, the ministry will be left to prosecute the war in other parts of the world with greater vigor and effect.”
In less than two weeks a tempter of an entirely different sort approached Washington. Lewis Nicola, colonel of the corps of invalids, wrote to tell of the fact that the officers and soldiers were discontented be-cause they had not received their pay. Then he intimated that he had no hope of the success of republican institutions, but thought this country needed a ruler like a king, though he might not be called king, owing to the objection to that word. Yet he added, ” I believe strong arguments might be produced for admitting the title of KING, which I conceive would be attended with some material advantages.”
To this letter Washington sent prompt reply, on May 22, 1782:
” SIR : With a mixture of great surprise and astonishment, I have read with attention the sentiments you have submitted to my perusal. Be assured, Sir, no occurrence in the course of the war has given me more painful sensations, than your information of there being such ideas existing in the army, as you have expressed, and I must view with abhorrence and reprehend with severity. For the present the Communication of this will rest in my own bosom, unless some further agitation of the matter shall make a disclosure necessary.
” I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have given encouragement to an address, which to me seems big with the greatest mischiefs that can befall my country. If I am not deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable. At the same time, in justice to my own feelings, I must add that no man possesses a more sincere wish to see ample justice done to the Army than I do, and so far as my power and influence, in a constitutional way, extend, they shall be employed to the utmost of my abilities to effect it, should there be any occasion. Let me conjure you then, if you have any regard for your country, concern for yourself or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind, and never communicate, as from yourself or any one else, a sentiment of the like nature.
” With esteem I am, sir, Your most obedient servant,
” GEORGE WASHINGTON.”
That Washington desired to be a simple resident on his own estate at Mount Vernon instead of king of the new country, was emphasized by a letter written on June 15 to Archibald Cary :
” I can truly say, that the first wish of my soul is to return speedily into the bosom of that country which gave me birth, and, in the sweet enjoyment of domestic happiness and the company of a few friends, to end my days in quiet, when I shall be called from this stage.”
There was joy in the village on the banks of the Hudson when, late in 1782, a letter came from Sir Guy Carleton announcing that negotiations for a general peace had already begun in Paris, and that the king had decided to propose the independence of the thirteen Provinces ” in the first instance, instead of granting it as a condition of a general treaty.”
In the long interval before the receipt of decisive word concerning peace, the sagacity of Washington was once more tested severely. There was still disaffection among the officers and the men because they had not been paid, and because Congress seemed to pay no attention to their protests. Washington learned that a call had been issued for a meeting of officers to be held in New Windsor to consider taking matters into their own hands and forcing Congress to act.
Washington did not hesitate. He asked the officers to meet him in the very building in which they had planned to make their plans for revolt. Then he appealed to their patriotism, urging them not to put a stain on their noble service by hasty action. When he had gone, the officers acted in a way that justified the General’s confidence. Unanimously they promised all that had been asked of them, and voted to thank Washington for his method of dealing with them.
On March 19, 1783, four days after this action, Washington acknowledged to Congress receipt of word that the preliminary articles of peace had been signed on November 30, and on April 18 he ordered the cessation of hostilities, in accordance with the proclamation of Congress.
The Hasbrouck house was sold by the family to New York State in 1849. For twenty-four years, by act of Assembly, the historic quarters were cared for by the trustees of the village, and later by the city authorities. In May, 1874, trustees appointed by the legislature took over the property and have held it ever since, for the benefit of the people.