March 12, 2012

Matthew Lyon (1749 - 1822), Part 3: History of the Wooden Sword

Part 1: Obituary of Matthew Lyon
Part 2: Spitting in Roger Griswold's Face
Part 3: History of the Wooden Sword
Part 4: Duel with Griswold
Part 5: Lyon's Kentucky Duel

Continuing with the subject from my last post, here is Matthew Lyon's explanation of the story alluded to by Roger Griswold when he asked Lyon if he would fight the people of Connecticut with his wooden sword.  From the Massachusetts Spy on February 21, 1798 (I believe this text can also be found in the Annals of Congress):

By Matthew Lyon, Esq.

Massachusetts Spy, Worcester Mass, February 21, 1798
[click to enlarge]
The following Narrative was given by Mr. Lyon in the course of his Defence before the Committee of Privileges, on Thursday, February 1st, 1798.

Gentlemen of the Committee,

After having heard so much about Wooden Swords, as expression, the repetition of which, in an indignant manner, has caused you this present trouble, I hope you will indulge me with a patient hearing to a short narrative of the circumstances which awakes my feelings, and utterly disables me from hearing such reflections.  After living ten years in Connecticut, from my 15th to my 25th year, I removed to a new settlement in Vermont, then called Newhampshire Grants, about 30 miles from Ticonderoga.  On the first attempts of the British government to enslave this country, I joined with about twenty other young men to form a minute company and learn military exercise; we made proficiency, and on the first news of active war we hastened to join Ethan Allen in taken Ticonderoga, Crown Point and St. John's.  I continued in that service, without pay, or prospect of it, until the Connecticut forces came on to keep the forts; when I returned home to take care of my affairs, which had suffered in my absences.  In the same summer, 1775, the military were organized, and I was appointed adjutant of my regiment.

In 1776, after the retreat from Canada, Colonel Seth Warner being out of employ, applied to the commander in chief in the Northern Department, for some defence for the frontier of the Newhampshire Grants, which became exposed by the retreat of the army.  The General recommended to the committee of the Newhampshire Grants, of which I was a member, to nominate the commission officers for six companies, and he promised to commission them, and that they should be entitled to continental pay.  In one of those companies I received a commission as a second lieutenant.  I set about enlisting my men, and immediately obtained my quota, and, at my own expense, marched them to the rendezvous at Pittsford, about 20 miles southeast from Ticonderoga, which by this time had become head quarters.  At the rendezvous I found the captain and first lieutenant of my company had raised no men, and that there were but two companies and a part of another, besides mine, raised, and that Col. Warner, who was expected to have commanded our six companies, and received a commission and orders from Congress for raising a regiment on the continental establishment during the war, and that in his endeavors to raise his regiments the raising of our companies was wholly impeded.  Finding the business falling into supineness[?] I applied to the  General to discharge me and my men in order that I might join Warner's regiment.  The General once agreed to discharge and pay me and my men, and ordered me to make up my pay roll for the purposes.  But at this juncture application was made to the General by some people who had bought the crops of the whigs, who had removed from Onion River, and he was induced to order our party to march to Jericho and take post at a certain house on the north side of Onion River, at least 60 miles in advance of the army towards Canada, from whence the army had retreated, and about the same distance from any body of inhabitants; and the General instead of discharging, ordered me to join one of the other companies.

The idea of the people and of the committee of the Newhampshire Grants was, that these six companies, if they had all been raised, would have been stationed some where near Middlebury, which is opposite to Crown Point; and about 12 miles east therefrom, and near forty miles southward of the place appointed by the General.

The commanding officer wrote to the General representing the situation of the country, and the impossibility of our being of any service at Onion River, and as all the well affected people were moved away.  This letter was either neglected or answered with a fresh order for marching.  The order was obeyed; but the soldiers considered themselves sacrificed to the interest of those persons who bought the crops for a trifle; and wanted to get our party there to eat them at the public expense.  I opposed these murmurs with all the arguments in my power.  I used frequently to urge with them, that the absolute government of the army must be with the general; he could not be omniscient, and we ought to submit with cheerfulness, and hope for the best.  In this situation our little garrison, which contained about 60 men, besides invalids, were alarmed by the Indians taking some persons from a house about a mile distant.  Consternation prevailed; I immediately called for volunteers, and went with about 20 men to the house where the prisoners had been taken; from thence took a circuit in the woods round the garrison, in order to see if there were any parties or appearances of the enemy.  Finding none, I returned and obtained leave to take about five and twenty of the best men and pursue the enemy towards the lake; where we supposed they had gone.  I had proceeded about two miles, when two runners from the commanding officer brought me positive orders to return, with intelligence that a [?] officer had returned from a scout to the lake Champlain, about twelve miles distance, where he saw five or six hundred Indians.

On my return I found the soldiers more than ever anxious about their situation.  They complained bitterly of the orders which bound them to the North side of Onion River, more than twenty poles wide, at that time not fordable, and but a single small canoe to cross with.  I endeavored to encourage the with assurances that we could withstand any number of Indians in our log houses, and a hovel or two which stood near, and, after a battle, if we should find the enemy too troublesome, we might retreat with honor.  I urged them to their duty as soldiers and patriots.  Every preparation was made to repel the attack which was expected from the enemy that night.  Being fatigued and off duty I laid down to rest with my fuzee in my arms; about nine o'clock in the evening I heard a violent bustle with a cry of "Turn out, Turn out!"  I ran out and inquired where the enemy were discovered, and was answered, No where.  The soldiers were paraded, and I found by what was said by the sergeants, that they were about to march off and cross the river.  I expostulated with them long and earnestly, pointing out the dishonor which such an action would reflect on their Country.  I urged them to try the even t of a battle, and I spoke the truth when I assured them that I preferred Death in battle to the Dishonor of quitting our post.

All entreaties were ineffectual; they declared they had been abused, there was no chance for their lives there, and they marched off for the South side of the river.  A Sergeant returned with some soldiers and called upon the officers to cross the river.  As they were agoing [?] to take the canoe to the side, they insisted on our going, and threatened violence if we refused.  The other officers, which were two captains and one lieutenant, seemed willing to go, and I did not think it my duty to resist alone.  In the morning the soldiers offered to return to subordination if the commanding officer would lead them to a small block fort at Newhaven about thirty miles to the Southward--the officers held a consultation; in this I refused to do anything but go back to the station we were ordered to maintain.  We were at this place joined by a Lieut. and a few men who had gone to a mill near Crown Point to get wheat ground, and I was sent express to head quarters, to carry letters and inform the General of what had happened; but some of the wheat speculators had arrived before me, and so exasperated the General that when I arrived he was enraged to the highest pitch; he swore we should all be hanged and ordered me into arrest.  Within a few days, the other officers and some of the soldiers were brought into head quarters.  We had a trial by a court martial, appointed by the exasperated General, who now swore we should all be broke.  I proved every thing with respect to myself that is here stated, (the persons are yet alive by whom I proved it, and are ready to repeat it) notwithstanding which I was included in the general sentence of cashiering; nor did even the Lieutenant who was absent at the mill escape the awful condemnation.  The soldiers were sentenced to corporal punishment--but on General Carleton's coming down to attack Ticonderoga they were liberated.

The mortification of being cashiered, and that very undeservedly, without any other aggravation, was, I believe, quite to the extent of my power to bear; had an indignant ceremony been to be performed, they would not have had my company at it, as the implements of death were in my power.

The General sent for us to his own house, and there in a mild manner, communicated to us the sentence, no one present I believe but his Aid, and we took our time and manner of quitting Ticonderoga.  I have always understood he reversed the sentences.

Perhaps my spirit would not have been able to have borne up under this affliction, had not all my acquaintance acquitted me of every color of misbehavior; nor did the bitterest enemy ever seriously, between he and me, before the present insult, call my courage or my conduct that instance in question.  Twenty one years have elapsed since the unfortunate affair, during which it has slept in oblivion; until party rage and party newspapers tore open the wound in my breast.

To pursue the narrative; Gen. St. Clair, who presided at the court martial which condemned me, wrote to Gen. Schuyler, informing him, as I supposed, of my ill usage and of my subsequent services, and obtained for me a commission of paymaster to a continual regiment commanded by Col. Seth Warner, which commission entitled me to the rank of Captain.  In this I was again unfortunately led into trouble, as the officers of the regiment had, previous to my appointment, petitioned Congress for the restoration of the former paymaster, who had been cashiered and was the son of a Congress man of Connecticut.  Notwithstanding the coldness this created towards me, and the consequent bickerings, no officer ever though proper to mention to me the unhappy affair of the preceding summer.  In this regiment I served at the capture of [B]urgoyne, and the succeeding spring, when my family could return to my plantation, from which Burgoyne's invasion had drove them, at the solicitation of Gov. Chittenden and many other friends, I resigned at a time when the officers of the regiment almost all had become reconciled and wished my stay.  Immediately on my resignation I was appointed Capt. in the militia, and to several civil offices under the authority of the state of Vermont, which had newly formed a constitution, and set up government.  In the year 1778, I was appointed a member of the Legislature, in which station I served my country ever since, save two years, until my appointment to Congress.  I held a station in the militia until the command of the regiment I lived in, with a full Colonel's commission, was given to me.  I moved to where I now reside, about the close of the war, and I have had no concern with military matters, nor been a candidate for any military appointment since.

Thus circumstanced, gentlemen of the committee, I must appeal to your own feelings whether it belonged to me to receive with impunity the aggravated insult offered me by that young gentleman, Mr. Griswold.  The station I now hold points out to you the propriety of giving full credit to the plain story I tell you, especially as it is corroborated by evidence.  The proper testimony to support this narrative I will procure and lay before the public, as soon as the situation of the evidences will admit.

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