History From America's Most Famous Valleys
of the American Revolution
by Elizabeth F. Ellet
New York: Baker and Scribner
THE husband of this lady, Colonel Clement Biddle, was among the first of those who took an active part on the breaking out of the war, resolved to sacrifice everything in the cause. Both he and his wife were members of the Society of Friends, and as a consequence of his taking up arms he was "read out of meeting" by that peace-loving community; while Mrs. Biddle, as ardent a patriot-expressing her approval of the war, and encouraging her husband in his course-was subjected to similar discipline.
Mrs. Biddle gave up the comforts of home to join the army with her husband, and was with the camp during the greater part of the war. With Mrs. Greene and Mrs. Knox, who were also with the army, she formed a lasting friendship, and was intimate with Mrs. Washington-being moreover on terms of personal friendship with the Commander-in-chief, for whom she entertained the highest respect and admiration. His letters to her husband, with whom a correspondence was kept up during his lIfe, are still in the possession of her children. This intimacy, with the unusual facilities she enjoyed for observing the events of the war, and the characters of the distinguished men engaged in it, render it a matter of regret that the spirited anecdotes and graphic details, so well worthy of being embodied in history, with which her conversation abounded in after life, should not have been recorded as they fell from her lips. One or two of these, however, received from a member of her family, may illustrate her character.
When the American army was encamped near the Brandywine, Mrs. Biddle was informed by an aid of Washington, that a large British foraging party was within the distance of a few miles; that orders had been issued for a party to start before day for the purpose of cutting off their retreat, and that, as an engagement might be expected, the women were directed to leave the camp. Mrs. Biddle, not willing to consider herself included in the order, told General Washington, when an opportunity of addressing him occurred, that as the officers would return hungry and fatigued from the expedition, she would, if allowed to stay, make provision for their refreshment. He assured her she might remain in safety, but recommended that she should hold herself in readiness to remove at a moment's warning, promising, in the event of any disaster, to send her timely information. She immediately despatched her servant through the neighborhood to collect provisions; and all the food cooked that day in the camp was thus procured by her. The enemy, informed by spies of the movement against them, made a hasty retreat, and at a late hour the American troops returned after a fatiguing march. Mrs. Biddle had the pleasure of giving the dinner she had provided to at least a hundred offices; each remarking, as he entered, "Madam, we hear that you feed the army to-day," which she really did till not a crust remained.
Among her guests on that occasion was the gallant La Fayette, who on his last visit paid his respects to her in Philadelphia. One of the Revolutionary reminiscences which they talked over in the presence of her deeply interested children and friends, was that entertainment, to which the General alluded with marked satisfaction. He also recalled to Mrs. Biddle's memory the suffering condition of the army at Valley Forge, where the want of provisions was at one time providentially supplied by a flight of wild pigeons in such vast numbers, and so near the ground, that they were killed with clubs and poles. Even the officers were at that time so destitute of decent clothing, that it was jocosely remarked, that a single suit of dress uniform served them all for dining in, when invited by turns to headquarters, where the repast consisted of pigeons prepared in as many ways as the cook could devise.
In no instance did the enthusiasm and patriotic spirit which animated the heroines of that day, shine more brightly than in this high-minded woman. The purest and most disinterested love of country induced a cheerful submission, on her part, to all the inconveniences, hardships, and losses rendered inevitable by a protracted war; and often, in subsequent years, did her detail of those difficulties serve for the amusement of her family circle. Her attachment to General Washington and his family continued through life; and during their residence in Philadelphia, she and Colonel Biddle were always honored guests at their table. She survived her husband many years, living till upwards of seventy, and to the last retaining in all their strength and freshness, the faculties and feelings of her prime. She ever loved to dwell on the signal display of the hand of Providence in the contest with the mother country, and whenever allusion was made to the Revolutionary war, it was a source of new delight to her children to hear her "fight her battles o'er again."
MRS. GRAYDON has been made known to us in her son's "Memoirs" of his own life and times. She was the eldest of four daughters; was born in the island of Barbadoes, and when but seven years old came with her family to Philadelphia. Her father was a German who had been engaged in trade in Barbadoes-her mother a native of Glasgow; but notwithstanding the want of national affinity, and the still greater differences of dialect and religion, there was no lack of harmony in their judgment with respect to the training of their children, who were brought up in strict principles, and after good example in both parents. The mother died before the commencement of hostilities, and it is not ascertained at what time the subject of this notice married Mr. Graydon. She was pronounced by one of her acquaintances (Dr. Baird), who has transmitted the record to posterity, to be "the finest girl in Philadelphia, having the manners of a lady bred at court." Her house was the seat of hospitality, and the resort of numerous guests of distinction, including officers of the British army. The Baron de Kalb was often there; and among persons of rank from the mother country, were Lady Moore, the wife of Sir Henry Moore, and her daughter; Lady Susan O'Brien and her husband; Major George Etherington, and others, Sir William Draper, who attained the rank of general in the British army, and, in 1779, was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Minorca, was also a frequent guest.
The account of Mrs. Graydon's visit to her son Alexander, who had been taken prisoner at the battle of Fort Washington, has interest as exhibiting the strength of her maternal affection, with a fortitude and patriotic spirit worthy of an American matron. After having addressed a letter to General Washington, who could do nothing to accomplish the release of her son, she resolved on going herself to New York, notwithstanding the opposition of her friends on account of the difficulties of travelling, for the purpose of soliciting his freedom on parole, from the British commander. She accordingly purchased a horse and chair, and set out for Philadelphia, her residence being then at Reading. On her arrival in the city, one Fisher, a distant relative, was officious in tendering his service to drive her to New York, and the offer was accepted; but when they had nearly reached Princeton, they were overtaken, to their great astonishment, by a detachment of American cavalry-Fisher, it seems, being a loyalist. The lady found in such evil company was taken also into custody, and after some delay, was obliged to retrace her road to Philadelphia, under an escort of horse. When they reached Bristol on their return, means were found for the prisoner to go on without the chair, and Mrs. Gray don was accompanied by Colonel M'Ilvaine, an old friend, to the head quarters of the American army, where proper measures could be taken for her proceeding within the British lines. After being conducted to the lines, she was committed to the courtesy of some Hessian officers. It happened, during the ceremony of the flag, that a gun was somewhere discharged on the American side. This infringement of military etiquette was furiously resented by the German officers; and their vehement gestures, and expressions of indignation, but imperfectly understood by the lady, alarmed, her not a little. She supported herself as well as she could, under this inauspicious introduction into the hostile territory, and had her horse led to the quarters of the general who commanded in Brunswick, where she alighted, and was shown into a parlor. Weary and faint from fatigue and agitation, she partook of some refreshment offered her, and then went to deliver a letter of introduction she had received from Mr. Vanhorne of Boundbrook to a gentleman in Brunswick. Five of the Misses Vanhorne, his nieces, were staying at the house, and with them Mrs. Graydon became well acquainted, as they avowed whig principles.
Their uncle had been compelled to leave Flatbush on I account of his attachment to the American cause; but was permitted not long afterwards to return to his house there, accompanied by Mrs. Vanhorne and her daughters.
After a detention of a week or more at Brunswick, Mrs. Graydon embarked in a sloop or shallop for New York. The vessel was fired upon from the shore, but no one was injured, and she reached in safety the destined port. Mr. Bache allowed Mrs. Graydon to occupy his part of Mr. Suydam's house during her stay at Flatbush. Here, in the society of her son, her accustomed flow of good spirits returned: she even gave one or two tea drinkings to the "rebel clan," and "learned from Major Williams the art of making Johnny cakes in the true Maryland fashion." These recreations did not interfere with the object of her expedition, nor could her son dissuade her from her purpose of proving the result of an application. When she called in New York on Mr. Galloway, who was supposed to have much influence at headquarters, he advised her to apply to Sir William Howe by memorial, and offered to draw up one for her. In a few minutes he produced what accorded with his ideas on the subject, and read to her what he had written, commencing with--"Whereas Mrs. Graydon has always been a true and faithful subject of His Majesty George the Third; and. whereas her son, an inexperienced youth, has been deluded by the arts of designing men-"
" Oh, sir," -cried the mother-" that will never do! my son cannot obtain his release on those terms."
Then, madam" -replied the officer, somewhat peevishly, I can do nothing for you!"
Though depressed by her first disappointment, Mrs. Graydon would not relinquish her object; but continued to advise with everyone she thought able or willing to assist her. In accordance with the counsel received from a friend, she at length resolved upon a direct application to General Howe.
After several weeks of delay, anxiety and disappointment, through which her perseverance was unwearied, the design was put in execution. Without having informed her son of what she meant to do, lest he might prevent her, through his fear of improper concessions on her part, she went one morning to New York, and boldly waited upon Sir William Howe. She was shown into a parlor, and had a few moments to consider how she should address him who possessed the power to grant her request, or to destroy her hopes. He entered the room, and was near her, before she perceived him.
" Sir William Howe-I presume?" said Mrs. Graydon, rising. He bowed; she made known her business -a mother's feelings doubtless giving eloquence to her speech-and entreated permission for her son to go home with her on parole.
" And then immediately to take up arms against us, I suppose!" said the General.
" By no means, sir; I solicit his release upon parole; that will restrain him until exchanged; but on my own part I will go further, and say that if I have any influence over him, he shall never take up arms again."
" Here," says Graydon, "the feelings of the patriot were wholly lost in those of the 'war-detesting' mother!' The General seemed to hesitate; but on the earnest renewal of her suit, gave the desired permission.
The mother's joy at her success was the prelude to a welcome summons to the prisoners, to repair to New York for the purpose of being transported in a flag-vessel to Elizabethtown. The captives having been kept in the dark on subjects concerning which they most desired information-the state of the army and public affairs-one of those left behind furnished Graydon with a kind of cypher, by which intelligence could be conveyed to him. The disguise consisted in the substitution of one piece of information for another; for instance-a lady named, was to signify the army; if that was prosperous, the fact was to be indicated by announcing the health and charming looks of the belle in question; there being a scale in the key, by which intelligence might be graduated.
After some adventures, the travellers reached Philadelphia, where they dined at President Hancock's. He had opposed Mrs. Graydon's scheme of going to New York; and though apparently pleased with her success, could not be supposed cordially gratified by an event which might give to the adverse cause any reputation for clemency. Such is the policy of war, and so stern a thing is patriotism!
Copyright © 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.