Thursday, July 06, 2006

When Warfare was Genteel

In doing research on an ancestor who was in the American Revolution, I came across a bit of history that really struck me, showing how much more genteel an affair warfare was back then. To set the scene, it helps to understand that British ships of war were sitting in New York Harbor, Governor Tryon was a crown appointee and loyalist (and "governing" from the ships, as he didn't feel safe from the "patriot rabble" in New York City), the pilot house and light at Sandy Hook were strategic to the patriots, and the operator of the light, Adam Dobbs, was a patriot. With that background, consider this entry in the minutes of the New York Committee of Safety (the local patriot organization):

De Veneris, 10 HO, A.M.
April 26th 1776

A copy of the letter from Governor Tryon, to the Major of this city dated the 19th instant, was read. He thereby informs that the commanders of the King's ships, on this station, had thought it necessary to burn the pilot house near the light house. That proper care has been taken of Adam Dobbs and his family and effects, and that if a sloop is sent down to receive Dobbs, his servants and effects, she will be permitted to return safe.
Amazing, isn't it? That would be like today in Iraq or Gaza or Sudan, somebody sending a message to their enemy saying in effect, "sorry we had to destroy your spy's base, but we didn't harm the spy or his family or things, and we'll promise safe passage for you to come in and retrieve him". Can you imagine?

(Of course, it wasn't entirely genteel. The same Governor was implicated in a plot to kidnap George Washington.)

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