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Full text of "Life and adventures of Israel Ralph Potter (1744-1826)"




THE 



MAGAZINE OF HISTORY 



WITH 



NOTES AND QUERIES 



Sxtra Nttmter No. IE 



THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL 

R. POTTER (1744-1826) By Himself 



WILLIAM ABBATT 

410 EAST 32D STREET, . . . . NEW YORK 

1911 




John fibe Painter , 



To accompany Extra Number 15 of the Magazine of History with Notes and 



Queries. 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES 



OF 



ISRAEL RALPH POTTER 



(1744-1826) 



PROVIDENCE 

Printed by J. Howard for I. R. Potter, 1824 



NEW YORK 

Reprinted 
WILLIAM ABBATT 

1911 
(Being Extra No. 16 of THE MAGAZINE or HISTORY WITH NOTES AND QUERIES.) 



DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND, 

To Wit: 

Be it remembered, that on the thirteenth day of January, one thousand eight 
hundred and twenty-four and in the forty-eighth year of the Independence of 
the United States of America, Henry Trumbull of said district deposited in this 
office the title of a book, the right whereof he claims as author, in the following 
words to wit: 

LIFE 

AND 

REMARKABLE ADVENTURES 

OF 

ISRAEL R. POTTER 

(A Native of Cranston, Rhode Island) 

WHO WAS A SOLDIER IN THE 

AMERICAN REVOLUTION 

And took a distinguished part in the Battle of Bunker Hill (in which he received 
three wounds), after which he was taken Prisoner by the British, con 
veyed to England, where for 30 years he obtained a livelihood for him 
self and family by crying, " Old Chairs to Mend," through the 
Streets of London. In May last, by the assistance of the 
American Consul, he succeded (in the 79th year of his 
age) in obtaining a passage to his native country, 
after an absence of 48 years. 

PROVIDENCE 
Printed by J. HOWARD, for I. R. POTTER, 1824 

l cbnfarn*lt ibrajr Act of Congress, entitled "An Act for the encouragement 
ef t lea^pkig,. fcy ^scouring -the copies of maps, charts and books to the author and 
>*TOJJr>6t < orV*Ojh Such . copies, during the time therein mentioned," and also to an 
act entitled, " An Act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies 
of maps, charts and books to the author and proprietors of such copies, during 
the time therein mentioned, and extending the benefits thereof to the Art of de 
signing, engraving, and etching, historical, and other prints." 

Witness: BENJAMIN COWELL, 

Clerk of the Rhode Island District. 



V 



O l?p 
A. JU 



RSMARXA3LE AD 



OF 



(A NATIVE OF CRANSTON, RHODE-ISLAND*} 
WHO WAS A SOLDISR IN TUB 

AMERICAN REVOLUTION,.- 

And took a distinguished part in the Bailie of Bi: : $ke; 
Hill (in which ha received threo w-o suifc,) aHe 
which he was taken Prisoner by the British, convey 
ed to En^lnn !, where for 30 years he obtained 
livelihood for himself and family, by crying * O| 
OMITS to Mend" through the Streets of London. 
In May l; .*t > by the assistance of the A;r, 
Siui, ho s l- ceeded (in the 79th year M i;.3 r,:> 
oii-.ainiri^ a pu-isa:^ to his native coui- i o 



PROVIDENCE: 

Friotcd by J. HOWARD, for I. R. POTTEII 1C .?4 



244017 



EDITOR S PREFACE 

The life story of Israel Potter is one of the strangest ever made 
known and its inherent interest is such that when first printed it 
awoke so much attention as to be hawked by peddlers throughout 
New England. The unfortunate author, however, did not live 
long enough to reap much benefit from its sale, dying within two 
years of his return to his native land after fifty years exile. 

His story is a valuable historical item, and the only one of the 
kind. Other prisoners narratives are confined to their experiences 
while in captivity: his is one of life in London, after a very brief 
imprisonment, from which he escapes after a series of adventures 
worthy of Vidocq or of Sherlock Holmes. 

His account of visiting the fifteen American prisoners in a Lon 
don jail is peculiarly remarkable, as the only mention of any such 
being confined there. Portsmouth or other seaports were the usual 
places of imprisonment. (Dartmoor Prison was not opened until 
1809.) Who and whence were these unhappy men? We have 
had search made of official records in London, by an expert, without 
obtaining the slightest clue to their identity. Sometime between 
1775 and 1783, somewhere in the vast wilderness of London fifteen 
American prisoners lived how long and died when and how, if 
not fortunately exchanged (as few were) ? 

His story of half a century s life in London helps us to see how 
the ranks of the British army were kept full. When the utmost 
efforts of industrious men were insufficient to enable them to save 
a penny, and many actually died of hunger, small wonder that the 
certainty of food, clothing, shelter, and pay, even as small as was 
that of the private soldier, attracted the thousands who were to 

619 



EDITOR S PREFACE 



follow the drumbeat round the world. Can a terser, more emphatic 
picture of the poverty of the London poor be found than in Pot 
ter s brief statement that within a month after Waterloo was 
fought, some of the very soldiers who had helped win it, and been 
discharged on the return to England, w r ere trying to live by crying 
"old chairs to mend" through London s streets, where he himself 
could barely make a shilling a day? 

It is due to the memory of the brave man who perhaps might 
have attained prominence in his native land had he been able to 
return there under Franklin s plan, that the extraordinary record 
of his life and sufferings should be again published after an ob 
livion of eighty-seven years. We have endeavoured to ascertain 
the history of his son Thomas, who is supposed to have survived 
him, as he was but about ten years old in 1826; but have signally 
failed: a matter of real regret, for we would fain have recorded 
some particulars of one whose originality and courage as a child 
secured eventually his father s return to his birthplace, and the pub 
lication of the story of his life. 



620 



i 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF 
ISRAEL R. POTTER 

WAS born of reputable parents in the town of Cranston, 
State of Rhode Island, August 1st, 1744. 



I continued with my parents there in the full enjoyment of 
parental affection and indulgence until I arrived at the age of 
eighteen, when, having formed an acquaintance with the daughter 
of a Mr. Richard Gardner, a near neighbour, for whom (in the 
opinion of my friends) entertaining too great a degree of par 
tiality, I was reprimanded and threatened by them with more 
severe punishment if my visits were not discontinued. Disap 
pointed in my intentions of forming an union (when of suitable 
age) with one whom I really loved, I deemed the conduct of my 
parents in this respect unreasonable and oppressive, and formed 
the determination to leave them for the purpose of seeking another 
home and other friends. 

It was on Sunday, while the family were at meeting, that I 
packed up as many articles of my clothing as could be contained 
in a pocket handkerchief, which, with a small quantity of provis 
ions, I conveyed to and secreted in a piece of woods in the rear of 
my father s house. I then returned and continued in the house 
until about nine in the evening, when, with the pretence of retiring 
to bed, I passed into a back room and from thence out of a back 
door, and hastened to the spot where I had deposited my cloathes, 
&c. It was a warm summer s night, and that I might be enabled 
to travel with the more facility the succeeding day I lay down at 

621 



8 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

the foot of a tree and reposed myself until about four in the morn 
ing, when I arose and commenced my journey, travelling west 
ward, with an intention of reaching, if possible, the new countries 
which I had heard highly spoken of as affording excellent pros 
pects for industrious and enterprising young men. To evade the 
pursuit of my friends, by whom I knew I should be early missed 
and diligently sought for, I confined my travel to the woods and 
shunned the public roads, until I had reached the distance of about 
twelve miles from my father s house. 

At noon the succeeding day I reached Hartford in Connecticut, 
and applied to a farmer in that town for work, and for whom I 
agreed to labour for one month for the sum of six dollars. Hav 
ing completed my month s work to the satisfaction of my employer, 
I received my money and started from Hartford for Otter Creek ; 1 
but when I reached Springfield I met with a man bound to the 
Cahos 2 country, and who offered me four dollars to accompany 
him, of which offer I accepted, and the next morning we left 
Springfield and in a canoe ascended Connecticut river, and in about 
two weeks, after much hard labour in paddling and poling the boat 
against the current, we reached Lebanon, N. H., the place of our 
destination. It was with some difficulty and not until I had pro 
cured a writ by the assistance of a respectable innkeeper in Leb 
anon, by the name of Hill, 3 that I obtained from my last employer 
the four dollars which he had agreed to pay me for my services. 

From Lebanon I crossed the river to New Hartford, 4 where 
I bargained with a Mr. Brink of that town for two hundred acres 
of new land lying in New Hampshire, and for which I was to 
labour for him four months. As this may appear to some a small 
consideration for so great a number of acres of land, it may be well 
here to acquaint the reader with the situation of the country in that 
quarter at that early period of its settlement; which was an almost 

1 Vermont. 3 This was Charles Hill. 

2 Coos County, N. H. * Then in New York State. 

622 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 9 

impenetrable wilderness, containing but few civilized inhabitants, 
far distantly situated from each other and from any considerable 
settlement, and whose temporary habitations with a few exceptions 
were constructed of logs in their natural state. The woods 
abounded with wild beasts of almost every description peculiar to 
this country, nor were the few inhabitants at that time free from 
serious apprehension of being at some unguarded moment sud 
denly attacked and destroyed, or conveyed into captivity by the 
savages, who from the commencement of the French war had im 
proved every favourable opportunity to cut off the defenseless 
inhabitants of the frontier towns. 

After the expiration of my four months labour, the person who 
had promised me a deed of two hundred acres of land therefor 
having refused to fulfill his engagements, I was obliged to engage 
with a party of his Majesty s surveyors at fifteen shillings per 
month, as an assistant chain bearer, to survey the wild, unsettled 
lands bordering on the Connecticut river to its source. It was in 
the winter season, and the snow so deep that it was impossible to 
travel without snow-shoes. At the close of each day we enkindled 
a fire, cooked our victuals, and erected with the branches of hem 
lock a temporary hut which served us as a shelter for the night. 
The surveyors having completed their business returned to Leb 
anon, after an absence of about two months. Receiving my 
wages, I purchased a fowling-piece and ammunition therewith, 
and for the four succeeding months devoted my time in hunting 
deer, beavers, etc., in which I was very successful; as in the four 
months I obtained as many skins of these animals as produced me 
forty dollars. With my money I purchased of a Mr. John Marsh 
a hundred acres of new land lying on Water Queechy * river ( so 
called), about five miles from Hartford, N. Y. On this land I 
went immediately to work, erected a small log hut thereon, and in 
two summers, without any assistance, cleared up thirty acres fit 

* Now called Otter Queechy. 

623 



10 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

for sowing. In the winter seasons I employed my time in hunt 
ing and entrapping such animals whose hides and furs were es 
teemed of the most value. I remained in possession of my land 
two years, and then disposed of it to the same person of whom I 
purchased it, at the advanced price of two hundred dollars, and 
then conveyed my skins and furs which I had collected the two 
preceding winters to No. 4 (now Charlestown, N. H.), where I 
exchanged them for Indian blankets, wampeag 5 and such other 
articles as I could conveniently convey on a hand-sled, and with 
which I started for Canada, to barter with the Indians for furs. 

This proved a very profitable trip, as I very soon disposed of 
every article at an advance of more than two hundred per cent, and 
received payment in furs at a reduced price, and for which I re 
ceived in No. 4 two hundred dollars cash. With this money, to 
gether with what I was before in possession of, I now set out for 
home, once more to visit my parents after an absence of two years 
and nine months, in which time my friends had not been enabled 
to receive any correct information of me. On my arrival, so 
greatly affected were my parents at the presence of a son whom 
they had considered dead, that it was some time before either could 
become sufficiently composed to listen to or to request me to fur 
nish them with an account of my travels. 

Soon after my return, as some atonement for the anxiety which 
I had caused my parents, I presented them with most of the money 
that I had earned in my absence, and formed the determination 
that I would remain with them contented at home, in consequence 
of a conclusion, from the welcome reception that I met with, that 
they had repented of their opposition and had become reconciled 
to my intended union. But in this I soon found that I was mis 
taken for although overjoyed to see me alive whom they had sup 
posed really dead, no sooner did they find that my long absence 
had rather increased than diminished my attachment for their 

5 Wampum. 

624 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 11 

neighbour s daughter, than their resentment and opposition ap 
peared to increase in proportion; in consequence of which I formed 
the determination again to quit them, and try my fortune at sea, 
as I had now arrived at an age in which I had an unquestionable 
right to think and act for myself. 

After remaining at home one month I applied for and procured 
a berth at Providence, on board the sloop - , Captain Fuller, 
bound to Grenada. Having completed her loading (which con 
sisted of stone lime, hoops, staves, etc. ) , we set sail with a favour 
able wind, and nothing worthy of note occurred until the fifteenth 
day from that on which we left Providence, when the sloop was 
discovered to be on fire by a smoke issuing from her hold. The 
hatches were immediately raised, but as it was discovered that the 
fire was caused by water communicating with the lime, it was 
deemed useless to make any attempts to extinguish it. Orders 
were immediately thereupon given by the captain to hoist out the 
long boat, which was found in such a leaky condition as to require 
constant bailing to keep her afloat. We had only time to put on 
board a small quantity of bread, a firkin of butter and a ten-gallon 
keg of water, when we embarked, eight in number, to trust our 
selves to the mercy of the waves, in a leaky boat and many leagues 
from land. As our provision was but small in quantity, and it 
being uncertain how long we might remain in our perilous posi 
tion, it was proposed by the captain soon after leaving the sloop 
that we should put ourselves on an allowance of one biscuit and 
half a pint of water per day for each man w T hich was readily 
agreed to by all on board. In ten minutes after leaving the sloop 
she was in a complete blaze and presented an awful spectacle. 
With a piece of the flying- jib, which had been fortunately thrown 
into the boat, we made shift to erect a sail, and proceeded in a 
southeast direction, in hopes to reach the Spanish Main, if not so 
fortunate as to fall in with some vessel in our course which by 
the interposition of a kind Providence in our favour, actually took 

625 



12 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

place the second day after leaving the sloop. We were discovered 
and picked up by a Dutch ship bound from Eustatia to Holland, 
and from the captain and crew met with a humane reception and 
were supplied with every necessary that the ship afforded. We 
continued on board one week, when we fell in with an American 
sloop bound from Piscataqua to Antigua, which received us all on 
board and conveyed us in safety to the port of her destination. 
At Antigua I got a berth on board an American brig bound to 
Porto Rico and from thence to Eustatia. At Eustatia I received 
my discharge, and entered on board a ship belonging to Nantucket 
and bound on a whaling voyage, which proved an uncommonly 
short and successful one. We returned to Nantucket full of oil 
after an absence of the ship from that port of only sixteen months. 
After my discharge I continued about one month on the island, 
and then took passage for Providence, and from thence to Crans 
ton, once more to visit my friends, with whom I continued three 
weeks and then returned to Nantucket. From Nantucket I made 
another whaling voyage to the South Seas, and after an absence 
of three years (in which time I experienced almost all the hard 
ships and deprivations peculiar to Whalemen in long voyages) I 
succeeded by the blessing of Providence in reaching once more 
my native home, perfectly sick of the sea and willing to return to 
the bush and exchange a mariner s life for one less hazardous and 
fatiguing. 

I remained with my friends at Cranston a few weeks, and then 
hired myself to a Mr. James Waterman of Coventry for twelve 
months, to w r ork at farming. This was in the year 1774, and I 
continued with him about six months, when the difficulties which 
had for some time prevailed between the Americans and Britons 
had now arrived at that crisis as to render it certain that hostilities 
would soon commence in good earnest between the two nations; 
in consequence of which the Americans at this period began to pre 
pare themselves for the event. Companies were formed in several 

626 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 13 

of the towns in New England, who received the appellation of 
"Minute Men," and who were to hold themselves in readiness to 
obey the first summons of their officers to march at a moment s 
notice. A company of this kind was formed in Coventry, into 
which I enlisted, and to the command of which Edmund Johnston * 
of Coventry was appointed. 

It was on a Sabbath morning that news was received of the de 
struction of the provincial stores at Concord, and of the massacre 
of our countrymen at Lexington by a detached party of the British 
troops from Boston; and I immediately thereupon received a sum 
mons from the captain to be prepared to march with the company 
early the morning ensuing and although I felt not less willing 
to obey the call of my country at a minute s notice and to face her 
foes than did the gallant Putnam, yet the nature of the summons 
did not render it necessary for me, like him, to quit my plough in 
the field, as having the day previous commenced the ploughing a 
field of ten or twelve acres, that I might not leave my work half 
done, I improved the Sabbath to complete it. 

By the break of day Monday morning I swung my knapsack, 
shouldered my musket, and with the company commenced my 
march with a quick step for Charlestown, where we arrived before 
sunset and remained encamped in the vicinity until about noon of 
the 16th of June; when, having been previously joined by the re 
mainder of the regiment from Rhode Island to which our company 
was attached, we received orders to proceed and join a detachment 
of about a thousand American troops which had that morning 
taken possession of Bunker Hill, and which we had orders imme 
diately to fortify in the best manner that circumstances would 
admit of. We laboured all night without cessation and with very 
little refreshment, and by the dawn of day succeeded in throwing 

* Edmund Johnston of Coventry was captain of the Coventry company in the Kent 
County regiment of militia, of which John Waterman was colonel, in August, 1774. 
Potter was in Colonel Varnum s regiment, the Rhode Island. 

627 



14 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

up a redoubt of eight or nine rods square. As soon as our works 
were discovered by the British in the morning they commenced a 
heavy fire upon us, which was supported by a fort on Copp s Hill. 
We, however (under the command of the intrepid Putnam) , con 
tinued to labour like beavers until our breastwork was completed. 

About noon a number of the enemy s boats and barges, filled 
with troops, landed at Charlestown and commenced a deliberate 
march to attack us. We were now harangued by General Put 
nam, who reminded us that exhausted as we were by our incessant 
labour through the preceding night, the most important part of our 
duty was yet to be performed, and that much would be expected 
from so great a number of excellent marksmen. He charged us 
to be cool and to reserve our fire until the enemy approached so 
near as to enable us to see the whites of their eyes. When within 
about ten rods of our works, w r e gave them the contents of our 
muskets, and which were aimed with so good effect as soon to cause 
them to turn their backs and retreat with a much quicker step than 
with what they approached us. We were now again harangued 
by "old General Put," as he was termed, and requested by him to 
aim at the officers, should the enemy renew the attack which they 
did in a few moments, with a reinforcement. Their approach was 
with a slow step, which gave us an excellent opportunity to obey 
the commands of our General in bringing down their officers. I 
feel but little disposed to boast of my own performance on this 
occasion, and will only say that after devoting so many months in 
hunting the wild animals of the wilderness while an inhabitant of 
New Hampshire, the reader will not suppose me a bad or inexpe 
rienced marksman; and that such were the fair shots which the 
epauletted redcoats presented in the two attacks, that every shot 
w r hich they received from me I am confident on another occasion 
would have produced me a deerskin. 

So warm was the reception which the enemy met with in their 
second attack that they again found it necessary to retreat; but 

628 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 15 

soon after receiving a fresh reinforcement a third assault was made, 
in which, in consequence of our ammunition failing, they too well 
succeeded. A close and bloody engagement now ensued. To 
fight our way through a very considerable body of the enemy, with 
clubbed muskets (for there were not one in twenty of us provided 
with bayonets), was now the only means left us to escape. The 
conflict, which was a sharp and severe one, is still fresh in my 
memory, and cannot be forgotten by me while the scars of the 
wounds which I then received remain to remind me of it. Fortu 
nately for me, at this critical moment I was armed with a cutlass, 
which, although without an edge and much rust-eaten, I found of 
infinite more service to me than my musket. In one case I am 
certain it was the means of saving my life: a blow with a cutlass 
was aimed at my head by a British officer, which I parried, and re 
ceived only a slight cut with the point on my right arm near the 
elbow, which I was then unconscious of; but this slight wound cost 
my antagonist at the moment a much more serious one, which ef 
fectually dis-armed him for with one well-directed stroke I de 
prived him of the power of very soon again measuring swords with 
"a Yankee rebel." 

We finally, however, should have been mostly cut off and com 
pelled to yield to a superiour and better-equipped force, had not 
a body of three or four hundred Connecticut men formed a tem 
porary breastwork with rails, &c., and by which means [they] held 
the enemy at bay until our main body had time to ascend the 
heights and retreat across the Neck. In this retreat I was less for 
tunate than many of my comrades: I received two musket-ball 
wounds, one in my hip and the other near the ancle of my left leg. 
I succeeded, however, without any assistance, in reaching Prospect 
Hill, where the main body of the Americans had made a stand and 
commenced fortifying. From thence I was soon after conveyed 
to the hospital in Cambridge, where my wounds w r ere dressed and 
the bullet extracted from my hip by one of the surgeons. The 

629 



16 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

house was nearly filled with the poor fellows who, like myself, had 
received wounds in the late engagement, and presented a melan 
choly spectacle. 

Bunker Hill fight proved a sore thing for the British, and will, 
I doubt not, be long remembered by them. While in London I 
heard it frequently spoken of by many who had taken an active 
part therein, some of whom were pensioners and bore indelible 
proofs of American bravery. By them the Yankees by whom they 
were opposed were not unfrequently represented as a set of infu 
riated beings whom nothing could daunt or intimidate and who, 
after their ammunition failed, disputed the ground inch by inch 
for a full hour, with clubbed muskets, rusty swords, pitchforks, and 
billets of wood, against the British bayonets. 

I suffered much pain from the wound which I received in my 
ancle; the bone was badly fractured and several pieces were ex 
tracted by the surgeon, and it was six weeks before I was suffi 
ciently recovered to be able to join my regiment quartered on Pros 
pect Hill, where they had thrown up entrenchments within the dis 
tance of little more than a mile of the enemy s camp, which was 
in full view, they having entrenched themselves on Bunker Hill 
after the engagement. 

On the 3rd of July, to the great satisfaction of the Americans, 
General Washington arrived from the South to take command. I 
was then confined in the hospital, but as far as my observation could 
extend, he met with a joyful reception, and his arrival was wel 
comed by every one throughout the camp. The troops had long 
been waiting with impatience for his arrival, as being nearly desti 
tute of ammunition and the British receiving reinforcements daily, 
their prospects began to wear a gloomy aspect. 

The British quartered in Boston began soon to suffer much from 
the scarcity of provisions; and General Washington took every 

630 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 17 

precaution to prevent their gaining a supply. From the country 
all supplies could easily be cut off, and to prevent their receiving 
any from Tories and other disaffected persons by water, the Gen 
eral found it necessary to equip two or three armed vessels to inter 
cept them. Among these was the brigantine Washington, of ten 
guns, commanded by Captain Martindale. 6 As seamen at this 
time could not easily be obtained, as most of them had enlisted in 
the land service, permission was given to any of the soldiers who 
should be pleased to accept of the offer, to man these vessels ; con 
sequently myself and several others of the same regiment went 
on board the Washington, then lying at Plymouth, for a cruize. 

We set sail about the 8th of December, but had been out but 
three days when we were captured by the enemy s ship Foy, of 
twenty guns, who took us all out and put a prize crew on board the 
Washington. The Foy proceeded with us immediately to Boston 
bay, where we were put on board the British frigate Tartar, and 
orders given to convey us to England. 

When two or three days out I projected a scheme (with the as 
sistance of my fellow-prisoners, seventy-two in number) to take 
the ship; in which we should undoubtedly have succeeded, as we 
had a number of resolute fellows on board, had it not been for the 
treachery of a renegade Englishman who betrayed us. As I was 
pointed out by this fellow as the principal in the plot, I was ordered 
in irons by the officers of the Tartar, and in w 7 hich situation I re 
mained until the arrival of the ship at Portsmouth (England), 
when I was brought on deck and closely examined; but protesting 
my innocence, and, what was very fortunate for me, in the course 
of their examination, the person by whom I had been betrayed 
having been proved a British deserter, his story was discredited 
and I was relieved of my irons. 

e Captain Sion Martindale (see Cowell s "Spirit of 76"). Her crew was seventy-two 
men. She was fitted out at Plymouth. Captain M. was a captain in Col. Thomas 
Church s R. I. regiment. 

631 



18 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

The prisoners were now all thoroughly cleansed and conveyed 
to the marine hospital on shore, where many of us took the small 
pox the natural way, from some whom we found in the hospital 
affected with that disease, and which proved fatal to nearly one- 
half our number. From the hospital those of us who survived 
were conveyed to Spithead and put on board a guardship, and 
where I had been confined with my fellow-prisoners about a 
month when I was ordered into the boat to assist the bargemen (in 
consequence of the absence of one of their gang) in rowing the 
lieutenant on shore. As soon as we reached the shore and the 
officer landed, it was proposed by some of the boat s crew to resort 
for a few moments to an ale-house in the vicinity to treat them 
selves to a few pots of beer ; which being agreed to by all, I thought 
this a favourable opportunity, and the only one that might present, 
to escape from my floating prison, and felt determined not to let 
it pass unimproved. Accordingly, as the boat s crew were about 
to enter the house I expressed a necessity of my separating from 
them a few moments; to which they, not suspecting any design, 
readily assented. As soon as I saw them all snugly in and the 
door closed, I gave speed to my legs, and ran, as I then concluded, 
about four miles without once halting. I steered my course toward 
London, as when there, by mingling with the crowd, I thought it 
probable that I should be least suspected. 

When I had reached the distance of about ten miles from where 
I quit the bargemen, and [was] beginning to think myself in little 
danger of apprehension should any of them be sent by the lieu 
tenant in pursuit of me, as I was leisurely passing a public house 
I was noticed and hailed by a naval officer at the door with "Ahoy, 
what ship?" "No ship," was my reply, on which he ordered me 
to stop, but of which I took no other notice than to observe to him 
that if he would attend to his own business I would proceed quietly 
about mine. This rather increasing than diminishing his suspi 
cions that I was a deserter, garbed as I was, he gave chase. Find- 

632 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 19 

ing myself closely pursued, and unwilling again to be made a pris 
oner of if it was possible to escape, I had once more to trust to 
my legs and should have again succeeded had not the officer, on 
finding himself likely to be distanced, set up a cry of "Stop thief!" 
This brought numbers out of their houses and workshops who, 
joining in the pursuit, succeeded after a chase of nearly a mile, in 
overhauling me. 

Finding myself once more in their power, and [being] a per 
fect stranger to the country, I deemed it vain to attempt to deceive 
them with a lie, and therefore made a voluntary confession to the 
officer that I was a prisoner of war, and related to him in what 
manner I had that morning made my escape. By the officer I 
was conveyed back to the inn, and left in custody of two soldiers; 
the former (previous to retiring) observing to the landlord that, 
believing me to be a true-blooded Yankee [he] requested him to 
supply me at his expense with as much liquor as I should call for. 

The house was thronged early in the evening by many of the 
"good and faithful subjects of King George," who had assembled 
to take a peep at the Yankee rebel," as they termed me, who had 
so recently taken an active part in the rebellious war then raging 
in His Majesty s American provinces; while others came appar 
ently to gratify a curiosity in viewing for the first time an "Ameri 
can Yankee," whom they had been taught to believe a kind of non 
descripts beings of much less refinement than the ancient Britons, 
and possessing little more humanity than the Buccaneers. 

As for myself, I thought it best not to be reserved, but to reply 
readily to all their inquiries; for while my mind was wholly em 
ployed in devising a plan to escape from the custody of my keep 
ers, so far from manifesting a disposition to resent any of the in 
sults offered rne or my country, I feigned myself not a little pleased 
with their observations, and in no way dissatisfied with my situa 
tion. As the officer had left orders with the landlord to supply 

633 



20 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

x 

me with as much liquor as I should be pleased to call for, I felt 
determined to make my keepers merry at his expense if possible, 
as the best means that I could adopt to effect my escape. 

The loyal group having attempted in vain to irritate me by their 
mean and ungenerous reflections, by one who observed that he had 
frequently heard it mentioned that the Yankees were extraordinary 
dancers, it was proposed that I should entertain the company with 
a jig; to which I expressed a willingness to assent, with much 
feigned satisfaction, if a fiddler could be procured. Fortunately 
for them there was one residing in the neighbourhood, who was 
soon introduced, when I was obliged (although much against my 
own inclination) to take the floor with the full determination, 
however, that if John Bull was to be thus diverted at the expense 
of an unfortunate prisoner of war, Uncle Jonathan should come in 
for his part of the sport before morning by showing them a few 
Yankee steps which they then little dreamed of, 

By my performances they were soon satisfied that in this kind 
of exercise I should suffer but little in competition with the most 
nimble- footed Briton among them; nor would they release me 
until I had danced myself into a state of perfect perspiration 
which, however, so far from being any disadvantage to me, I con 
sidered all in favour of my projected plan to escape, for while I 
w r as pleased to see the flowing bowl passing merrily about and not 
unfrequently brought in contact with the lips of my two keepers, 
the state of perspiration that I was in prevented its producing on 
me any intoxicating effects. 

The evening having become now far spent and the company 
mostly retiring, my keepers, who (to use a sailor s phrase), I was 
happy to discover "half-seas over," having, much to my dissatis 
faction, furnished me with a pair of handcuffs, spread a blanket 
by the side of their beds, on which I was to repose for the night. 
I feigned myself very grateful to them for having humanely fur- 

634 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 21 

nished me with so comfortable a bed, and on which I stretched my 
self with much apparent unconcern and remained quiet about one 
hour, when I was sure that the family had all retired to bed. 

The important moment had now r arrived in which I was resolved 
to carry my premeditated plan into execution or die in the attempt 
for certain I was that if I let this opportunity pass unimproved 
I might have cause to regret it when it was too late; that I should 
most assuredly be conveyed early in the morning back to the float 
ing prison from which I had so recently escaped, and where I might 
possibly remain confined until America should obtain her inde 
pendence or the difficulties between Great Britain and her Ameri 
can provinces were adjusted. Yet, should I in any attempt to es 
cape meet with more opposition from my keepers than what I had 
calculated from their apparent state of inebriety, the contest I well 
knew would be very unequal they were two full-grown, stout 
men, with whom (if they were assisted by no others) I should have 
to contend handcuffed! But after mature deliberation I resolved 
that, however hazardous the attempt, it should be made, and that 
immediately. 

After remaining quiet, as I before observed, until I thought it 
probable that all had retired to bed in the house, I intimated to 
my keepers that I was under the necessity of requesting permis 
sion to retire for a few moments to the backyard; when both in 
stantly arose and reeling towards me seized each an arm and pro 
ceeded to conduct me through a long and narrow entry to the 
back door, which was no sooner unbolted and opened by one of 
them than I tripped up the heels of both and laid them sprawling, 
and in a moment was at the garden wall seeking a passage whereby 
I might gain the public road. A new and unexpected obstacle 
now r presented, for I found the whole garden enclosed with a 
smooth bricken [sic] wall, of the height of twelve feet at least, and 
was prevented by the darkness of the night from discovering an 
avenue leading therefrom. In this predicament my only alterna- 

635 



22 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

tive was either to scale this wall, handcuffed as I was and without 
a moment s hesitation, or to suffer myself to be made a captive of 
again by my keepers, who had already recovered their feet and 
were bellowing like bullocks for assistance. Had it not been a 
very dark night I must certainly have been discovered and retaken 
by them; fortunately before they had succeeded in rallying the 
family, in groping about I met with a fruit tree situated within 
ten or twelve feet of the wall, which I ascended as expeditiously 
as possible, and by an extraordinary leap from the branches reached 
the top of the wall, and was in an instant on the opposite side. 
The coast being now clear I ran to the distance of two or three miles 
with as much speed as my situation would admit of. My next 
object now was to rid myself of my handcuffs, which fortunately 
proving none of the stoutest, I succeeded in doing after much pain 
ful labour. 

It was now, as I judged, about twelve o clock, and I had suc 
ceeded in reaching a considerable distance from the inn from which 
I had made my escape, without hearing or seeing anything of my 
keepers whom I had left staggering about in the garden in search 
of their Yankee captive. It was indeed to their intoxicated state 
and the extreme darkness of the night that I imputed my -success 
in evading their pursuit. I saw no one until about the break of 
day, when I met an old man tottering beneath the weight of his 
pickaxe, hoe and shovel, clad in tattered garments and otherwise 
the picture of poverty and distress. He had just left his humble 
dwelling and was proceeding thus early to his daily labour, and as 
I was now satisfied that it would be very difficult for me to travel 
in the daytime, garbed as I was in a sailor s habit, without exciting 
the suspicion of His Royal Majesty s pimps, who I had been in 
formed were constantly on the lookout for deserters, I applied to 
the old man, miserable as he appeared, for a change of cloathing, 
offering those which I then wore for a suit of inferior quality and 
less value. This I was induced to do at that moment, as I thought 

636 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 23 

that the proposal could be made with perfect safety: for whatever 
might have been his suspicions as to my motives in wishing to ex 
change my dress, I doubted not that with an object of so much 
apparent distress self-interest would prevent his communicating 
them. The old man, however, appeared a little surprised at my 
offer, and after a short examination of my pea-jacket, trowsers, 
&c., expressed a doubt whether I would be willing to exchange 
them for his "Church Suit," which he represented as something 
worse for wear and not worth half so much as those I then wore. 
Taking courage, however, from my assurances that a change of 
dress was my only object, he deposited his tools by the side of a 
hedge and invited me to accompany him to his house, which we 
soon reached and entered, when a scene of poverty and wretched 
ness presented which exceeded everything of the kind I had ever 
before witnessed. The internal appearance of the miserable 
hovel I am confident would suffer in a comparison with any of the 
meanest stables of our American farmers; there was but one room, 
in one corner of which was a bed of straw covered with a coarse 
sheet, and on which reposed his wife and five small children. I 
had heard" much of the impoverished and distressed situation of the 
poor in England, but the present presented an instance of which 
I had formed no conception. Little indeed did I then think that 
it would be my lot, before I should meet with an opportunity to 
return to my native land, to be placed in an infinitely worse situa 
tion but alas, such was my hard fortune! 

The first garment presented by the poor old man of his best or 
"church suit," as he termed it, was a coat of very coarse cloth, 
and containing a number of patches of almost every colour but 
that of the cloth of which it was originally made. The next was 
a waistcoat and a pair of small cloathes which appeared each to 
have received a bountiful supply of patches to correspond with the 
coat. The coat I put on without much difficulty, but the two other 
garments proved much too small for me, and when I had suc- 

637 



24 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

ceeded with considerable difficulty in putting them on, they set so 
taut as to cause me some apprehension that they might even stop 
the circulation of blood. My next exchange was my buff cap for 
an old, rusty, large-brimmed hat. 

The old man appeared very much pleased with his bargain, and 
represented to his wdfe that he could now accompany her to church 
much more decently clad. He immediately tried on the pea- 
jacket and trowsers, and seemed to give himself very little concern 
about their size, although I am confident that one leg of the trow 
sers was sufficiently large to admit his whole body; but however 
ludicrous his appearance in his new suit, I am certain that it could 
not have been more so than mine, garbed as I was like an old man 
of seventy. From my old friend I learned the course that I must 
steer to reach London, the towns and villages that I should have to 
pass through and the distance thereto, which was between seventy 
and eighty miles. He likewise represented to me that the country 
was filled with soldiers, who were on the constant lookout for de 
serters from the navy and army, for the apprehension of which 
they received a stipulated reward. 

After enjoining it on the old man not to give any information 
of me, should he meet on the road any one who should enquire for 
such a person, I took my leave of him and again set out with a de 
termination to reach London thus disguised if possible. I trav 
elled about thirty miles that day, and at night entered a barn, in 
hopes to find some straw or hay on which to repose for the night, 
for I had not money sufficient to pay for a night s lodging at a 
public house, had I thought it prudent to apply for one. 

In my expectation to find either hay or straw in the barn I was 
sadly disappointed, for I soon found that it contained not a lock 
of either and after groping about in the dark in search of some 
thing that might serve for a substitute, I found nothing better 
than an undressed sheepskin. With no other bed on which to re- 

638 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 25 

pose my weary limbs, I spent a sleepless night; cold, hungry and 
weary, and impatient for the arrival of the morning s dawn, that 
I might be enabled to pursue my journey. 

By break of day I again set out, and soon found myself within 
the suburbs of a considerable village, in passing which I was fear 
ful there would be some risk of detection, but to guard myself as 
much as possible against suspicion, I furnished myself with a 
crutch, and feigning myself a cripple, hobbled through the town 
without meeting with any interruption. In two hours after I ar 
rived in the vicinity of another still more considerable village, but 
fortunately for me, at the moment I was overtaken by an empty 
baggage-wagon bound to London. Again feigning myself very 
lame, I begged of the driver to grant a poor cripple the indulgence 
to ride a few miles to which he assenting, I concealed myself by 
lying prostrate on the bottom of the wagon until we had passed 
quite through the village, when finding the waggoner disposed to 
drive much slower than what I wished to travel, after thanking 
him for the kind disposition which he had manifested to oblige me, 
I quit the waggon, threw away my crutch and travelled with 
a speed calculated to surprise the driver with so sudden a recovery 
of the use of my legs. The reader will perceive that I had now 
become almost an adept at deception, which I would not, how 
ever, have so frequently practiced had not self-preservation de 
manded it. 

As I thought there would be in my journey to London infi 
nitely more danger of detection in passing through large towns and 
villages than in confining myself to the country, I avoided them 
as much as possible; and as I found myself once more on the bor 
ders of one, apparently of much larger size than any I had yet 
passed, I thought it most expedient to take a circuitous route to 
avoid it ; in attempting which I met with an almost insurmountable 
obstacle that I little dreamed of. When nearly abreast of the 
town I found my route obstructed by a ditch, of upwards of 

639 



26 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

twelve feet in breadth and of what depth I could not determine. 
As there was now no other alternative left me but to leap this 
ditch, or to retrace my steps and pass through the town, after a 
moment s reflection I determined to attempt the former, although 
it would be attempting a feat of activity that I supposed myself 
incapable of performing. Yet, however incredible it may ap 
pear, I assure my readers that I did effect it, and reached the other 
side with dry feet. 

I had now arrived within about sixteen miles of London, when 
night approaching, I again sought lodgings in a barn, which con 
taining a small quantity of hay, I succeeded in obtaining a toler 
able comfortable night s rest. By the dawn of day I arose some 
what refreshed, and resumed my journey with the pleasing pros 
pect of reaching London before night; but while encouraged and 
cheered by these pleasing anticipations, an unexpected occurrence 
blasted my fair prospects. I had succeeded in reaching in safety 
a distance so great from the place where I had been last held a 
prisoner, and within so short a distance of London, the place of 
my destination, that I began to think myself so far out of danger 
as to cause me to relax in a measure in the precautionary means 
which I had made use of to avoid detection. As I was passing- 
through the town of Staines, within a few miles of London, about 
eleven o clock in the forenoon, I was met by three or four Brit 
ish soldiers whose notice I attracted, and who unfortunately for 
me discovered by the collar (which I had not taken the precaution to 
conceal) that I wore a shirt which exactly corresponded with those 
uniformly worn by His Majesty s seamen. Not being able to 
give a satisfactory account of myself, I was made a prisoner of on 
suspicion of being a deserter from His Majesty s service, and was 
immediately committed to the Round House a prison so called, 
appropriated to the confinement of runaways and those convicted 
of small offences. I was committed in the evening, and to secure 
me the more effectually I was handcuffed, and left supperless by 
my unfeeling jailor, to pass the night in wretchedness, 

640 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 27 

I had now been three days without food (with the exception of 
a single two penny loaf) and felt myself unable much longer to 
resist the cravings of nature. My spirits, which until now had 
armed me with fortitude, began to forsake me; indeed, I was at 
this moment on the eve of despair, when calling to mind that grief 
would only aggravate my calamity, I endeavoured to arm my soul 
with patience, and habituate myself as well as I could to woe. Ac 
cordingly, I roused my spirits, and banishing for a few moments 
these gloomy ideas, I began to reflect seriously on the methods how 
to extricate myself from this labyrinth of horror. 

My first object was to rid myself of my handcuffs, which I suc 
ceeded in doing after two hours hard labour, by sawing them 
across the grating of the window. Having my hands now at lib 
erty, the next thing to be done was to force the door of my apart 
ment, which was secured on the outside by a hasp and padlock. I 
devised many schemes, but for the want of tools to work with was 
unable to carry them into execution. I, however, at length suc 
ceeded, with the assistance of no other instrument than the bolt of 
my handcuffs, with which, thrusting my arm through a small win 
dow or aperture in the door, I forced the padlock and as there 
was now no other barrier to prevent my escape, after an imprison 
ment of about five hours I was once more at large. 

It was now, as I judged, about midnight, and although enfeebled 
and tormented with excessive hunger and fatigue, I set out with 
the determination of reaching London, if possible, early the ensu 
ing morning. By break of day I reached and passed through 
Brentford, a town of considerable note and within six miles of the 
capital but so great was my hunger at this moment that I was 
under serious apprehension of falling a victim to absolute starva 
tion, if not so fortunate soon [as] to obtain something to appease 
it. I recollected of having read in my youth accounts of the dread 
ful effects of hunger, which had led men to the commission of the 

641 



28 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

most horrible excesses, but did not then think that fate would ever 
thereafter doom me to an almost similar situation. 

When I made my escape from the prison ship six English pen 
nies was all the money that I possessed. With two I had purchased 
a two-penny loaf the day after I had escaped from my keepers at 
the inn, and the other four still remained in my possession, not hav 
ing met with a favourable opportunity since the purchase of the 
first loaf, to purchase food of any kind. When I had ar 
rived at the distance of one and a half miles from Brent 
ford I met with a labourer employed in building a pale fence, 
to whom my deplorable situation induced me to apply for 
work, or for information of any one in the neighbourhood that 
might be in want of a hand to work at farming or gardening. He 
informed me that he did not wish, himself, to hire, but that Sir 
John Millet, whose seat he represented [to be], but a short distance 
[away], was in the habit of employing many hands at that season 
of the year (which was in the spring of 1776) and he doubted not 
but that I might there meet with employment. 

With my spirits a little revived at even a distant prospect of ob 
taining something to alleviate my sufferings, I started in quest of 
the seat of Sir John, agreeable to the directions which I had re 
ceived; in attempting to reach which I mistook my way and pro 
ceeded up a gravelled and beautifully ornamented walk, which un 
consciously led me directly to the garden of the Princess Amelia. 
I had approached within view of the royal mansion, when a glimpse 
of a number of "redcoats" who thronged the yard satisfied me of 
my mistake, and caused me to make an instantaneous and precipi 
tate retreat ; being determined not to afford any more of their mess 
an opportunity of boasting of the capture of a "Yankee rebel." 
Indeed, a wolf or bear of the American wilderness could not be 
more terrified or panic-struck at the sight of a firebrand than I 
then was at that of a British red coat ! 

642 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 29 

Having succeeded in making good my retreat from the garden 
of Her Highness without being discovered, I took another path, 
which led me to where a number of labourers were employed in 
shovelling gravel, and to whom I repeated my enquiry if they could 
inform me any want of help, &c. "Why, in troth, friend," an 
swered one in a dialect peculiar to the labouring class of people of 
that part of the country, "me master, Sir John, hires a goodly 
many, and as we ve a deal of work now, maybe he ll hire you; 
s pose he [sic] stop a little with us until work is done he [sic] may 
then gang along and we ll question Sir John whether him be want 
ing another like us or no." 

Although I was sensible that an application of this kind might 
lead to a discovery of my situation, whereby I might be again de 
prived of my liberty and immured in a loathsome prison, yet, as 
there was now no other alternative left me but to seek in this way 
something to satisfy the cravings of hunger, or to yield a victim 
to starvation with all its attending horrors, of the two evils I pre 
ferred the least, and concluded as the honest labourer had proposed, 
to await until they had completed their work and then to accom 
pany them home to ascertain the will of Sir John. 

As I had heard much of the tyrannical and domineering dispo 
sition of the rich and purse-proud of England, and who were gen 
erally the lords of the manor and the particular favourites of the 
Crown, it was not without feeling a very considerable degree of 
diffidence that I introduced myself into the presence of one whom 
I strongly suspected to be of that class. But what was peculiarly 
fortunate for me, a short acquaintance was sufficient to satisfy me 
that as regarded this gentleman my apprehensions were without 
cause. I found him walking in his front yard in company with 
several gentlemen, and on being made acquainted with my busi 
ness his first enquiry was, whether I had a hoe or money to pur 
chase one ; and on being answered in the negative he requested me 

643 



30 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

to call early the ensuing morning and he would endeavour to fur 
nish me with one. 

It is impossible for me to express the satisfaction that I felt at 
the prospect of a deliverance from my wretched situation. I was 
now, by so long fasting, reduced to such a state of weakness that 
my legs were hardly able to support me, and it was with extreme 
difficulty that I succeeded in reaching a baker s shop in the neigh 
bourhood, where with my four remaining pennies, which I had re 
served for a last resource, I purchased tw r o two-penny loaves. 

After four days of intolerable hunger the reader may judge 
how great must have been my joy to find myself in possession of 
even a morsel to appease it. Well might I have exclaimed at this 
moment with the unfortunate Trenck: "O Nature! what delight 
hast thou combined with the gratification of thy wants! Remem 
ber this, ye who rack invention to excite appetite, and which yet 
you cannot procure; remember how simple are the means that will 
give a crust of mouldy bread a flavour more exquisite than all the 
spices of the East or all the profusion of land or sea; remember 
this, grow hungry and indulge your sensuality." Although five 
times the quantity of the "staff of life" would have been insuffi 
cient to have satisfied my appetite, yet, as I thought it improb 
able that I should be indulged with a mouthful of anything to eat 
in the morning, I concluded to eat then but one loaf and to re 
serve the other for another meal ; but having eaten one, so far from 
satisfying it seemed rather to increase my appetite for the other. 
The temptation was irresistible, the cravings of hunger predomi 
nated and would not be satisfied until I had devoured the remain 
ing one. 

The day was now far spent, and I was compelled to resort with 
reluctance to a carriage-house, to spend another night in misery. 
I found nothing therein on which to repose my wearied limbs but 
the bare floor, which was sufficient to deprive me of sleep, how- 

644 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 31 

ever much exhausted nature required it. My spirits were, how 
ever, buoyed up by the pleasing consolation that the succeeding 
day would bring relief. As soon as daylight appeared I has 
tened to await the commands of one whom, since my first intro 
duction, I could not but flatter myself would prove my benefactor 
and afford me that relief which my pitiful situation so much re 
quired. It was an hour much earlier than that at which even the 
domestics were in the habit of rising, and I had been a consider 
able time walking back and forth in the barnyard before any made 
their appearance. It was now about four o clock, and by the per 
son of whom I made the enquiry I was informed that eight o clock 
was the usual hour in which the labourers commenced their 
day s work. Permission was granted me by this person (who had 
the care of the stable) to repose myself on some straw beneath 
the manger until they should be in readiness to depart to com 
mence their day s work; in the four hours I had a more comfort 
able nap than any that I had enjoyed the four preceding nights. 
At eight o clock precisely all hands were called and preparations 
made for a commencement of the labour of the day. I was fur 
nished with a large iron fork and a hoe, and ordered by my em 
ployer to accompany them; and although my strength at this mo 
ment was hardly sufficient to enable me to bear even so light a bur 
then, yet I was unwilling to expose my weakness so long as it 
could be avoided. But the time had now arrived in which it was 
impossible for me any longer to conceal it, and I had to confess 
the cause to my fellow-labourers, so far as to declare to them that 
such had been my state of poverty that, with the exception of the 
four small loaves of bread, I had not tasted food for four days! 
I was not, I must confess, displeased nor a little disappointed to 
witness the evident emotions of pity and commiseration which this 
w r oeful declaration appeared to excite in their minds; as I had 
supposed them too much accustomed to witness scenes of misery 
and distress to have their feelings much affected by a brief recital 

645 



32 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

of my sufferings and deprivations; but in justice to them I must 
say that although a very illiterate I found them (with a few ex 
ceptions) a humane and benevolent people. 

About eleven o clock we were visited by our employer, Sir John 
who noticing me particularly, and perceiving the little progress 
I made in my labour observed, that although I had the appearance 
of being a stout, hearty man, yet I either feigned myself or really 
was, a very weak one; on which it was immediately observed by 
one of my friendly fellow-labourers that it was not surprising that 
I lacked strength, as I had eaten nothing of consequence for four 
days! Mr. Millet, who appeared at first little disposed to credit 
the fact, on being assured by me that it was really so, put a shil 
ling into my hand and bid me go immediately and purchase to that 
amount in bread and meat a request which the reader may sup 
pose I did not hesitate to comply with. 

Having made a tolerable meal and feeling somewhat refreshed 
thereby, I was on my return, w r hen I was met by my fellow-la 
bourers on their return home, four o clock being the hour in [sic] 
which they usually quit work. As soon as we arrived some vic 
tuals were ordered for me by Sir John, when the maid present 
ing a much smaller quantity than what her benevolent master 
supposed sufficient to satisfy the appetite of one who had been 
four days fasting, she was ordered to return and bring out the 
platter and the whole of its contents, and of which I was requested 
to eat my fill but of which I eat sparingly to prevent the dan 
gerous consequences which might have resulted from my voracity 
in the debilitated state to which my stomach was reduced. 

My light repast being over, one of the men were \_sic\ ordered 
by my hospitable friend to provide for me a comfortable bed in 
the barn, where I spent the night on a couch of clean straw, more 
sweetly than ever I had done in the days of my better fortune. 
I arose early, much refreshed, and was preparing after breakfast 

646 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 33 

to accompany the labourers to their work, which was no sooner 
discovered by Sir John than, smiling, he bid me return to my 
couch and there remain until I was in a better state to resume my 
labours; indeed the generous compassion and benevolence of this 
gentleman was unbounded. After having on that day partook 
of an excellent dinner, which had been provided expressly for me, 
and the domestics having been ordered to retire, I was not a little 
surprised to hear myself thus addressed by him: "My honest 
friend > I perceive that you are a seafaring man, and your his 
tory probably is a secret which you may not wish to divulge; but 
whatever circumstances may have attended you, you may make 
them known to me with the greatest safety, for I pledge my hon 
our I will never betray you." 

Having experienced so many proofs of the friendly disposition 
of Mr. Millet, I could not hesitate a moment to comply with his 
request, and without attempting to conceal a single fact made him 
acquainted with every circumstance that had attended me since 
my first enlistment as a soldier. After expressing his regret that 
there should be any of his countrymen found so void of the prin 
ciples of humanity as to treat thus an unfortunate prisoner of 
war, he assured me that so long as I remained in his employ he 
would guarantee my safety adding, that notwithstanding (in 
consequence of the unhappy differences which then prevailed be 
tween Great Britain and her American colonies) the inhabitants 
of the latter were denominated Rebels, yet they were not without 
their friends in England, who wished well to their cause and would 
cheerfully aid them whenever an opportunity should present. He 
represented the soldiers (whom it had been reported to me were 
constantly on the lookout for deserters) as a set of mean and con 
temptible wretches, little better than a lawless banditti, who to 
obtain the fee awarded by Government for the apprehension of a 
deserter, would betray their best friend. 

647 



34 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

Having been generously supplied with a new suit of cloathes 
and other necessaries by Mr. M., I contracted with him for six 
months to superintend his strawberry garden in the course of 
which, so far from being molested I was not suspected by even 
his own domestics of being an American. At the expiration of 
the six months, by the recommendation of my hospitable friend 
I got a berth in the garden of the Princess Amelia, where, al 
though among my fellow-labourers the American rebellion was 
not unfrequently the topic of conversation and the "d d Yankee 
rebels," as they termed them, frequently the subjects of their vilest 
abuse, I was little suspected of being one of that class whom they 
were pleased thus to denominate. I must confess that it w r as not 
without some difficulty that I was enabled to suppress the indig 
nant feelings occasioned by hearing my countrymen spoken so 
disrespectfully of, but as a single word in their favour might have 
betrayed me, I could obtain no other satisfaction than by secretly 
indulging the hope that I might, before the conclusion of the 
war, have an opportunity to repay them in their own coin with 
interest. I remained in the employ of the Princess about three 
months, and then in consequence of a misunderstanding with the 
overseer I hired myself to a farmer in a small village adjoining 
Brentford, where I had not been three weeks employed before ru 
mour was afloat that I w r as a Yankee prisoner of war! From 
whence the report arose, or by what occasioned, I never could 
learn. It no sooner reached the ears of the soldiers than they 
were on the alert, seeking an opportunity to seize my person. 
Fortunately I was apprised of their intentions before they had 
time to carry them into effect; I was, however, hard pushed, and 
sought for by them with that diligence and perseverance that cer 
tainly deserved a better cause. I had many hairbreadth escapes 
and most assuredly should have been taken, had it not been for 
the friendship of those whom I suspect felt not less friendly to 
the cause of my country, but dare not publicly avow it. I w r as at 

648 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 35 

one time traced by the soldiers in pursuit of me to the house of 
one of this description, in whose garret I was concealed, and was 
at that moment in bed. They entered and enquired for me, and 
on being told I was not in the house they insisted on searching, 
and were in the act of ascending the chamber stairs for that pur 
pose, when seizing my cloathes I passed up through the scuttle 
and reached the roof of the house, and from thence half -naked 
passed to those of the adjoining ones to the number of ten or 
twelve, and succeeded in making my escape without being discov 
ered. 

Being continually harassed by night and day by the soldiers, 
and driven from place to place without an opportunity to per 
form a day s work, I was advised by one whose sincerity I could 
not doubt, to apply for a berth as a labourer in a garden of His 
Royal Majesty, situated in the village of Kew, a few miles from 
Brentford, where under the protection of His Majesty it was 
represented to me that I should be perfectly safe, as the soldiers 
dare not approach the royal premises to molest any one there em 
ployed. He was indeed so friendly as to introduce me person 
ally to the overseer as an acquaintance who possessed a perfect 
knowledge of gardening, but from whom he carefully concealed 
the fact of my being an American born and of the suspicion en 
tertained by some of my being a prisoner of war who had escaped 
the vigilance of my keepers. 

The overseer concluded to receive me on trial. It was here that 
I had not only frequent opportunities to see His Royal Majesty 
in person, in his frequent resorts to this, one of his country re 
treats, but once had the honour of being addressed by him. The 
fact was that I had not been one week employed in the garden 
before the suspicion of my being either a prisoner of war or a spy 
in the employ of the Americans rebels, was communicated not 
only to the overseer and other persons employed in the garden, 

649 



36 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

but even to the King himself! As I was one day busily engaged 
with three others in gravelling a walk, I was unexpectedly ac 
costed by His Majesty, who, with much apparent good nature, en 
quired of me of w r hat country I was. "An American born, may 
it please Your Majesty," was my reply (taking off my hat, which 
he requested me instantly to replace on my head). "Ah," con 
tinued he, with a smile, "an American, a stubborn, a very stubborn 
people, indeed! And what brought you to this country and how 
long have you been here?" "The fate of war, Your Majesty; I 
was brought to this country a prisoner about eleven months since" 
and thinking this a favourable opportunity to acquaint him 
with a few of my grievances, I briefly stated to him how much I 
had been harassed by the soldiers. "While here employed they 
will not trouble you," was the only reply he made, and passed on. 
The familiar manner in which I had been interrogated by His Maj 
esty had, I must confess, a tendency in some degree to prepos 
sess me in his favour; I at least suspected him to possess a dispo 
sition less tyrannical and capable of better views than what had 
been imputed to him ; and as I had frequently heard it represented 
in America that, uninfluenced by such of his Ministers as unwisely 
disregarded the reiterated complaints of the American people, he 
would have been foremost to have redressed their grievances, of 
which they so justly complained. 

I continued in the service of His Majesty s gardener at Kew 
about four months, when the season having arrived when the work 
of the garden required less labourers, I with three others was dis 
charged, and the day after engaged myself for a few months to 
a farmer in the town and neighbourhood where I had been last 
employed. But not one week had expired before the old story 
of my being an American prisoner of war, &c., was revived and 
industriously circulated, and the soldiers, eager to obtain the prof 
fered bounty, like a pack of bloodhounds were again on the track, 
seeking an opportunity to surprise me. The house wherein I had 

650 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 37 

taken up my abode was several times thoroughly searched by them, 
but I was always so fortunate as to discover their approach in 
season to make good my escape by the assistance of a friend. To 
so much inconvenience, however, did this continual apprehension 
and fear subject me, that I was finally half resolved to surrender 
myself a prisoner to some of His Majesty s officers and submit to 
my fate, whatever it might be, when by an unexpected occurrence 
and the seasonable interposition of Providence in my favour, I 
was induced to change my resolution. 

I had been strongly of the opinion, by what I had myself expe 
rienced, that America was not without her friends in England, and 
those who were her well-wishers in the important cause in which she 
was at that moment engaged ; an opinion which I think no one will 
disagree with me in saying was somewhat confirmed by a circum 
stance of that importance as entitles it to a conspicuous place in 
my narrative. At a moment when driven almost to a state of 
despondency by continual alarms and fears of falling into the 
hands of a set of desperadoes who, for a very small reward, would 
willingly have undertaken the commission of almost any crime, I 
received a message from a gentleman of respectability of Brent 
ford (J. Woodcock, Esq.), requesting me to repair immediately 
to his house. The invitation I was disposed to pay but little at 
tention to, as I viewed it [as] nothing more than a plan of my 
pursuers to decoy and entrap me; but on learning from my con 
fidential friend that the gentleman by whom the message had been 
sent was one whose loyalty had been doubted, I was induced to 
comply with the request. 

1 reached the house of Squire Woodcock * about eight o clock in 
the evening, arid after receiving from him at the door assurances 

* Squire Woodcock was no doubt Charles, who died 1792, leaving one son, Charles 
Bridges Woodcock, who was admitted to Lincoln s Inn Oct. 31, 1T89. 

The father was evidently 4 a well-to-do citizen, as he is on record as buying the property 
of the Brentford Market in 1768, in partnership with others, whom he subsequently bought 
out, 

651 



38 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

that I might enter without fear or apprehension of any design on 
his part against me, I suffered myself to be introduced into a pri 
vate chamber, where were seated two other gentlemen, who ap 
peared to be persons of no mean rank and [who] proved to be no 
other than Home Tooke 1 and James Bridges, 2 Esquires. As all 
three of these gentlemen have long since paid the debt of nature, 
and are placed beyond the reach of such as might be disposed to 
persecute or reproach them for their disloyalty, I can now with 
perfect safety disclose their names names which ought to be dear 
to every true American. 

After having (by their particular request) furnished these gen 
tlemen with a brief account of the most important incidents of my 
life, I underwent a very strict examination, as they seemed deter 
mined to satisfy themselves, before they made any important ad 
vances or disclosures, that I was a person in whom they could re 
pose implicit confidence. Finding me firmly attached to the in 
terests of my country, so much so as to be willing to sacrifice even 
my life if necessary in her behalf, they began to address me with 
less reserve; and after bestowing the highest encomiums on my 
countrymen for the bravery which they had displayed in their re 
cent engagements with the British troops, as well as for their 
patriotism in publicly manifesting their abhorrence and detesta 
tion of the ministerial party in England, who to alienate their 
affections and enslave them had endeavoured to subvert the Brit 
ish Constitution, they enquired of me if (to promote the interests 
of my country) I should have any objection to take a trip to Paris 
on an important mission, if my passage and other expenses were 

1 Home Tooke was of course John Home Tooke, the famous philosopher and philologist, 

2 James Bridges I have been unable to identify, even with the aid of an expert genealo 
gist in London unless, as is probable, he was really John Edward Bridges. The latter 
was a Brentwood voter in 1802 possibly a son of James. 

The fact that Charles Woodcock s only son bore the name of Charles Bridges Wood 
cock points to a relationship between the two families. 

(As there was a John Bridges in Brentford in 1795, it may be that Potter was wrong 
in calling him James.) 

652 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 39 

paid and generous compensation allowed me for my trouble, and 
which in all probability would lead to the means whereby I might 
be enabled to return to my country to which I replied that I 
should have none. After having enjoined upon me to keep 
everything which they had communicated a profound secret, they 
presented me with a guinea and a letter for a gentleman in White 
Waltham (a country town about thirty miles from Brentford), 
which they requested me to reach as soon as possible and there re 
main until they should send for me, and by no means to fail to ar 
rive at the precise hour that they should appoint. 

After partaking of a little light refreshment, I set out at twelve 
o clock at night and reached White Waltham at half-past eleven 
the succeeding day, and immediately waited on and presented the 
letter to the gentleman to whom it was directed, and who gave 
me a very cordial reception, and whom I soon found was as real 
a friend to America s cause as the three gentlemen in whose com 
pany I had last been. It was from him that I received the first 
information of the evacuation of Boston by the British troops, 
and of the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE by the American Con 
gress. He indeed appeared to possess a knowledge of almost 
every important transaction in America since the memorable bat 
tle of Bunker Hill, and it was to him that I was indebted for 
many particulars, not a little interesting to myself and which I 
might otherwise have remained ignorant of, as I have always found 
it a principle of the Britons to conceal everything calculated to 
diminish or tarnish their fame as a "great and powerful nation." 

I remained in the family of this gentleman about a fortnight, 
when I received a letter from Squire Woodcock requesting me to 
be at his house without fail precisely at two o clock the morning 
ensuing; in compliance of which I packed up and started imme 
diately for Brentford, and reached the house of Squire Wood 
cock at the appointed hour. I found there in company with the 

653 



40 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

latter the two gentlemen whose names I have before mentioned, 
and by whom the object of my mission to Paris was now made 
known to me which was, to convey in the most secret manner 
possible a letter to DR. FRANKLIN. Everything was in readiness, 
and a chaise ready harnessed which was to convey me to Charing 
Cross, waited at the door. I was presented with a pair of boots, 
made expressly for me and for the safe conveyance of the letter 
of which I was to be the bearer; one of them contained a false 
heel, in which the letter w r as deposited, and was to be thus con 
veyed to the Doctor. After again repeating my former declara 
tion that, whatever might be my fate, they should never be ex 
posed, I departed, and was conveyed in quick time to Charing 
Cross, where I took the post-coach for Dover, and from thence 
was immediately conveyed in a packet to Calais, and in fifteen 
minutes after landing started for Paris, which I reached in safety, 
and delivered to DR. FRANKLIN the letter of which I was the 
bearer. 

What were the contents of this letter I was never informed and 
never knew, but had little doubt but that it contained important 
information relative to the views of the British Cabinet as re 
garded the affairs of America and although I well knew that a 
discovery while within the British dominions w r ould have proved 
equally fatal to me as to the gentlemen by whom I was employed, 
yet I most solemnly declare that to be serviceable to my country 
at that important period w r as much more of an object with me 
than the reward which I had been promised, however considerable 
it might be. My interview with DR. FRANKLIN was a pleasing 
one; for nearly an hour he conversed with me in the most agree 
able and instructive manner, and listened to the tale of my suf 
ferings with much apparent interest, and seemed disposed to en 
courage me with the assurance that if the Americans should suc 
ceed in their grand object and firmly establish their independence, 
they would not fail to remunerate their soldiers for their services. 

654 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 41 

But, alas, as regards myself these assurances have not as yet been 
verified! I am confident, however, that had it been a possible 
thing for that great and good man (whose humanity and gener 
osity have been the theme of infinitely abler pens than mine) to 
have lived to this day, I should not have petitioned my country in 
vain for a momentary enjoyment of that provision which has 
been extended to so great a portion of my fellow-soldiers, whose 
hardships and deprivations in the cause of their country could not, 
I am sure, have been half so great as mine. 

After remaining two days in Paris, letters were delivered to me 
by the Doctor, to convey to the gentlemen by whom I had been 
employed, and for their better security as well as my own I depos 
ited, as the other, in the heel of my boot, and with which, to the 
great satisfaction of my friends, I reached Brentford in safety 
and without exciting the suspicion of any one as to the important 
(although somewhat dangerous) mission that I had been engaged 
in. I remained secreted in the house of Squire Woodcock a few 
days, and then by his and the two other gentlemen s request, made 
a second trip to Paris, and in reaching which and delivering my 
letters, was equally as fortunate as in my first. If I should suc 
ceed in returning in safety to Brentford, I was (agreeable to the 
generous proposal of DR. FRANKLIN) to return immediately to 
France, from whence he was to procure me a passage to America. 
But although in my return I met with no difficulty, yet, as if Fate 
had selected me as a victim to endure the miseries and privations 
which afterwards attended me, but three hours before I reached 
Dover to engage a passage for the third and last time to Calais, 
all intercourse between the two countries was prohibited! 

My flattering expectations of being enabled soon to return to 
my native country, and once more to meet and enjoy the society 
of my friends after an absence of more than twelve months being 
thus by an unforeseen circumstance completely destroyed, I re- 

655 



42 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

turned immediately to the gentlemen by whom I had been last 
employed, to advise with them what it would be best for me to do 
in my then unpleasant situation; for, indeed, as all prospects were 
now at an end of meeting with an opportunity very soon to return 
to America, I could not bear the idea of remaining any longer in 
a neighbourhood where I was so strongly suspected of being a 
fugitive from justice, and under continual apprehension and im 
mured like a felon in a dungeon. 

By these gentlemen I was advised to repair immediately to Lon 
don, where employed as a labourer, if I did not imprudently be 
tray myself, they thought there was little probability of my being 
suspected of being an American. This advice I readily accepted, 
as the plan was such a one as exactly accorded with my opinion, 
for from the very moment that I first escaped from the clutches 
of my captors, I thought that in the city of London I should not 
be so liable to be suspected and harassed by the soldiers as I should 
to remain in the country. These gentlemen supplied me with 
money sufficient to defray my expenses, and would have willingly 
furnished me with recommendations had they not been fearful that 
if I should be so unfortunate as to be recognized by any one ac 
quainted with the circumstance of my capture and escape, those 
recommendations (as their loyalty was already doubted) might 
operate much against them, inasmuch as they might furnish a clue 
to the discovery of some transactions which they then felt unwill 
ing to have exposed. I ought here to state that before I set out 
for London I was entrusted by these gentlemen with five guineas, 
which I was requested to convey and distribute among a number 
of Americans there confined as prisoners of war in one of the city 
prisons. 

I reached London late in the evening, and the next day en 
gaged board at five shillings per week, at a public house in Lom 
bard street, where, under a fictitious name, I passed for a farmer 
from Lincolnshire. My next object was to find my way to the 

656 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 43 

prison where were confined as prisoners of war a number of my 
countrymen, and among whom I was directed to distribute the 
five guineas with which I had been entrusted for that purpose by 
their friends at Brentford. I found the prison without much 
difficulty, but it was with very considerable difficulty that I gained 
admittance, and not until I had presented the turnkey with a con 
siderable fee would he consent to indulge me. The reader will 
suppose that I must have been very much surprised when, as soon 
as the door of the prisoners apartment was opened and I had 
passed the threshold, to hear one of them exclaim with much ap 
parent astonishment, "Potter, is that you? How in the name of 
Heaven came you here!" An exclamation like this by one of a 
number to whom I supposed myself a perfect stranger, caused me 
much uneasiness for a few moments, as I expected nothing less 
than to recognize in this man some one of my old shipmates who 
had undoubtedly a knowledge of the fact of my being a prisoner 
of war and having been confined as such on board the guard-ship 
at Spithead. But in this I soon found to my satisfaction that I 
was mistaken, for after viewing for a moment the person by whom 
I had been thus addressed I discovered him to be no other than 
my old friend, Sergeant Singles,* with whom I had been intimately 
acquainted in America. As the exclamation was in presence of 
the turnkey, lest I should have the key turned upon me, and so 
be considered as lawful a prisoner as any of the rest, I hinted to 
my friend that he certainly mistook me, a Lincolnshire farmer, for 
another person; and by a wink which he received from me at the 
same moment gave him to understand that a renewal of our ac- 

* A careful search of London records, including the Captain s and Master s logs of 
the Tartar, does not yield any information about the Sergeant, or of the fifteen American 
prisoners whom Potter saw. As the log-books examined were not dated, they are prob 
ably later than 1780, and it may be that some later and more fortunate searcher may yet 
find particulars of them. It is certainly strange that there should have been any such 
prisoners in London, as Portsmouth or Plymouth were the usual places of confinement 
(Dartmoor not being in existence before 1805). 

657 



44 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

quaintance or an exchange of civilities would be more agreeable 
to me at any other time. 

I now, as I had been requested, divided the money as equally 
as possible among them, and to prevent the suspicions of the 
keeper, I represented to them in a feigned dialect peculiar to the 
labouring people of the shire-towns, that u me master was owing 
a little trifle or so to a rebel trader of one of His Majesty s Ameri 
can provinces, and was [re] quested by him to pay the balance and 
so to his brother Yankee rebels here imprisoned." I found the 
poor fellows (fifteen in number) confined in a dark, filthy apart 
ment of about eighteen feet square, and which I could not per 
ceive contained anything but a rough plank bench of about ten 
feet in length and a heap of straw, with one or two tattered, filthy- 
looking blankets spread thereon, which was probably the only bed 
ding allowed them. Although their situation was such as could 
not fail to excite my pity, yet I could do no more than lament that 
it was not in my power to relieve them. How long they remained 
thus confined, or when exchanged, I could never learn, as I never 
to my knowledge saw one of them afterwards. 

For four or five days after I reached London I did very little 
more than walk about the city, viewing such curiosities as met my 
eye; when reflecting that remaining thus idle I should not only be 
very soon out of funds, but should run the risk of being suspected 
and apprehended as one belonging to one of the numerous gangs 
of pickpockets, &c., which infest [ed] the streets of the city, I ap 
plied to an Intelligence Office for a coachman s berth, which I was 
so fortunate as to be able to procure, at fifteen shillings per week. 
My employer (J. Hyslop, Esq.), although rigid in his exactions 
was punctual in his payments, and by my strict prudence and 
abstinence from the numerous diversions of the city, I was enabled, 
in the six months which I served him, to lay up more cash than 
what I had earned the twelve months preceding. The next busi- 

658 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 45 

ness in which I engaged was that of brickmaking, and which, 
together with that of gardening, I pursued in the summer sea 
sons almost exclusively for five years ; in all which time I was not 
once suspected of being an American. Yet I must confess that 
my feelings were not unfrequently most powerfully wrought upon 
by hearing my countrymen dubbed with cowardice and by those, 
too, who had been thrice flogged or frightened by them when at 
tempting to ascend the heights of Bunker Hill! And to be 
obliged to brook these insults with impunity, as to have resented 
them would have caused me to have been suspected directly of 
being attached to the American cause, which might have been at 
tended with serious consequences. 

I should now pass over the five years that I was employed as 
above mentioned, as checkered by few incidents worth relating, was 
it not for one or two circumstances of some little importance that 
either attended me or came within my own personal knowledge. 
The reader has undoubtedly heard that the city of London and 
its suburbs is always more or less infested with gangs of nefarious 
wretches, who come under the denominations of Robbers, Pick 
pockets, Shoplifters, Swindlers, Beggars, &c., who are constantly 
prowling the streets in disguise, seeking opportunities to surprise 
and depredate on the weak and unguarded. Of these they form 
no inconsiderable portion, who contrive to elude and set at defi 
ance the utmost vigilance of Government. They are a class who 
in the daytime disperse each to his avocation, as (the better to 
blind the scrutinizing eye of justice) they make it a principle to 
follow some laborious profession, and at night assemble to pro 
ceed on their nocturnal rounds in quest of those whose well-stored 
pockets promise them a reward equal to the risk which they run 
in obtaining it. As I was one evening passing through Hyde 
Park, with five guineas and a few pennies in my pockets, I was 
stopped by six of these lawless footpads, who, presenting pistols 
at my breast, demanded my money. Fortunately for me I had 

659 



46 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

previously deposited the guineas in a private pocket of my panta 
loons for their better security. Thrusting their hands into my 
other pockets and finding me in possession of but a few English 
pennies, they took them and decamped. I hastened to Bow street 
and lodged information of the robbery with the officers, and who 
to my no little surprise informed me that mine was the fifth in 
stance of information of similar robberies by the same gang which 
had been lodged with them that evening. Runners had been sent 
in every direction in pursuit of them, but with what success I 
could never learn. 

Despairing of meeting w r ith a favourable opportunity to return 
to America until the conclusion of peace, and the prospects of a 
continuation of the war being as great then (by what I could 
learn) as at any period from its commencement, I became more 
reconciled to my situation, and contracted an intimacy with a 
young woman whose parents were poor, but respectable, and 
whom I soon after married. I took a small ready-furnished 
chamber in Red Cross Street, where, with the fruits of my hard 
earnings, I was enabled to live tolerably comfortable for three or 
four years, when, by sickness and other unavoidable circumstances, 
I was doomed to endure miseries uncommon to human nature. 

In the winter of 1781 news was received in London of the sur 
render of the army of Lord Cornwallis to the French and Ameri 
can forces! The receipt of news of an event so unexpected on 
the British ministers and members of Parliament was like a tre 
mendous clap of thunder. Deep sorrow was evidently depicted 
in the countenances of those who had been the most strenuous 
advocates for the war. Never was there a time in which I longed 
more to exult, and to declare myself a true-blooded Yankee. 
And w r hat was still more pleasing to me was to find myself even 
surpassed in expressions of joy and satisfaction by my wife, in 
consequence of the receipt of news which, while it went to estab 
lish the military fame of my countrymen, was so calculated to 

660 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 47 

humble the pride of her own. Greater proofs of her regard for 
me and my country I could not require. 

The Ministerial party in Parliament, who had been the insti 
gators of the war and who believed that even a view of the bright 
glittering muskets and bayonets of John Bull would frighten the 
leather-apron Yankees to a speedy submission, began now to har 
bour a more favourable opinion of the courage of the latter. His 
Majesty repaired immediately to the House of Peers and opened 
the sessions of Parliament. Warm debates took place on account 
of the ruinous manner in which the American war was continued; 
but Lord North and his party appeared yet unwilling to give up 
the contest. The capitulation of Cornwallis had, however, one 
good effect, as it produced the immediate release of Mr. Laurens * 
from the Tower, and although it did not put an immediate end 
to the war, yet all hopes of conquering America from that mo 
ment appeared to be given up by all except North and his adhe 
rents. 

There was no one engaged in the cause of America that did 
more to establish her fame in England, and to satisfy the high- 
boasting Britons of the bravery and unconquerable resolutions of 
the Yankees than that bold adventurer, Captain Paul Jones, who 
for ten or eleven months kept all the western coast of the island 
in alarm. He boldly landed at Whitehaven, w r here he burnt a 
ship in the harbour, and even attempted to burn the town ; nor was 
this, to my knowledge, the only instance in which the Britons were 
threatened with a very serious conflagration by the instigation of 
their enemies abroad. A daring attempt was made by one James 
Aitkin,** commonly known in London by the name of John the 

* Henry Laurens was confined in the Tower of London on " suspicion of high treason " 
for nearly fifteen months, from October 6, 1T80, denied medical attendance or the use of 
pen and ink. Soon after December,, 1781, he was released without trial 

** A broadside of the day describes him as " James Hill, alias John the Painter," and 
gives his alleged confession, in which he states that Silas Deane, then at Paris, dissuaded 
him from killing George III, but gave him money to enable him to burn the Portsmouth 
dockyard, where he did set fire to one of the buildings December 7, 1776. He was hung 
March 10, 1777, at Portsmouth. (See frontispiece.) 

661 



48 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

Painter, to set fire to the royal dock and shipping at Portsmouth; 
and [he] would probably have succeeded had he not imprudently 
communicated his intentions to one who, for the sake of a few 
guineas, shamefully betrayed him. Poor Aitkin was immediately 
seized, tried, condemned, executed and hung in chains. Every 
means was used to extort from him a confession by whom he had 
been employed, but without any success. It was, however, 
strongly suspected that he had been employed by the French, as 
it was about the time that they openly declared themselves in 
favour of the Americans. 

With regard to Mr. Laurens, I ought to have mentioned that 
as soon as I heard of his capture on his passage to Holland and 
of his confinement in the Tower, I applied for and obtained per 
mission to visit him in his apartment, and (with some distant 
hopes that he might point out some way in which I might be 
enabled to return to America) I stated to him every particular as 
regarded my situation. He seemed not only to lament very much 
my hard fortune, but (to use his own words) "that America 
should be deprived of the services of such men, at the important 
period, too, when she most required them." He informed me 
that he was himself held a prisoner and knew not when or on what 
conditions he would be liberated; but should he thereafter be in a 
situation to assist me in obtaining a passage to America he should 
consider it a duty which he owed his country to do it. 

Although I succeeded in obtaining by my industry a tolerable 
living for myself and family, yet so far from becoming reconciled 
to my situation I w r as impatient for the return of peace, when (as 
I then flattered myself) I should once more have an opportunity 
to return to my native country. I became every day less attached 
to a country where I could not meet with anything (with the ex 
ception of my little family) that could compensate me for the 
loss of the pleasing society of my kindred and friends in America. 

662 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 49 

Born among a moral and humane people, and having in my 
early days contracted their habits and a considerable number of 
their prejudices, it would be unnatural to suppose that I should 
not prefer their society to either that of rogues, thieves, pimps and 
vagabonds, or of a more honest but an exceedingly oppressed and 
forlorn people. 

I found London as it had been represented to me, a large and 
magnificent city, filled with inhabitants of almost every descrip 
tion and occupation, and such an one, indeed, as might be pleas 
ing to an Englishman, delighting in tumult and confusion and 
accustomed to witness scenes of riot and dissipation, as well as 
those of human infliction, and for the sake of variety would be 
willing to imprison himself within the walls of a Bedlam, where 
continual noise would deafen him, where the unwholesomeness of 
the air would affect his lungs, and where the closeness of the sur 
rounding buildings would not permit him to enjoy the enlivening 
influence of the sun! There is not perhaps another city of its size 
in the whole world the streets of which display a greater contrast, 
in the wealth and misery, the honesty and knavery of its inhabit 
ants, than the city of London. The eyes of the passing stranger, 
unaccustomed to witness such scenes, are at one moment dazzled 
by the appearance of pompous wealth with its splendid equipage 
at the next he is solicited by one apparently of the most wretched 
of human beings to impart a single penny for the relief of his 
starving family. Among the latter class there are many, how 
ever, who so far from being the real objects of charity that they 
represent themselves to be, actually possess more wealth than 
those who sometimes benevolently bestow it. These vile impos 
tors, by every species of deception that was ever devised or prac 
ticed by man, aim to excite the pity and compassion and to extort 
charity from those unacquainted with their easy circumstances. 
They possess the faculty of assuming any character that may best 
suit their purpose sometimes hobbling with a crutch and exhibit- 

663 



50 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

ing a wooden leg, at other times "an honourable scar of a wound 
received in Egypt, at Waterloo or at Trafalgar, fighting for their 
most gracious sovereign and master, King George!" 

Independent of these there is another species of beggars, the 
gypsies, who form a distinct clan and will associate with none but 
those of their own tribe. They are notorious thieves as well as 
beggars, and constantly infest the streets of London, to the great 
annoyance of strangers and those who have the appearance of 
being wealthy. They have no particular home or abiding place, 
but encamp about in open fields or under hedges as occasion re 
quires. They are generally of a yellow complexion and converse 
in a dialect peculiar only to themselves. Their thieving propen 
sities does [sic] not unfrequently lead them to. kidnap little chil 
dren whenever an opportunity presents. Having first by a dye 
changed their complexions to one that corresponds with their own 
they represent them as their own offspring, and carry them about 
half-naked on their backs to excite the pity and compassion of 
those of whom they beg charity. An instance of this species of 
theft by a party of these unprincipled vagabonds occurred once 
in my neighbourhood w r hile an inhabitant of London. The little 
girl kidnapped was the daughter of a Captain Kellem of Coventry 
street. Being sent abroad on some business for her parents, she 
was met by a gang of gypsies, consisting of five men and six 
women, who seized her and forcibly carried her away to their camp 
in the country at a considerable distance, having first stripped her 
of her own clothes, and in exchange dressed her in some of their 
rags. Thus garbed, she travelled about the country with them 
for nearly seven months, and was treated as the most abject slave, 
and her life threatened if she should endeavour to escape or di 
vulge her story. She stated that during the time she was with 
them they entrapped a little boy about her own age, whom they 
also stripped and carried with them, but took particular care he 
should never converse with her, treating him in the like savage 

664 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISEAEL 11. POTTER 51 

manner. She said they generally travelled by cross-roads and 
private ways, ever keeping a watchful eye that she might not 
escape, and that no opportunity offered until when, by some acci 
dent, they were obliged to send her from their camp to a neigh 
bouring farm house in order to procure a light, which she took 
advantage of, and scrambling over hedges and ditches as she sup 
posed for the distance of eight or nine miles, reached London 
worn out with fatigue and hunger, her support with them being 
always scanty and of the worst sort. It was the intention of the 
gypsies, she said, to have coloured her and the boy when the wal 
nut season approached. 

The streets of London and its suburbs are also infested with 
another and a still more dreadful species of rogues, denominated 
Footpads, and who often murder in the most inhuman manner, 
for the sake of only a few shillings, any unfortunate people who 
happen to fall in their way. Of this I was made acquainted with 
innumerable instances while an inhabitant of London. I shall, 
however, mention but two that I have now recollection of: A Mr. 
Wylde while passing through Marlborough street in a chaise, was 
stopped by a footpad who, on demanding his money, received a 
few shillings, but being dissatisfied with the little booty he ob 
tained, still kept a pistol at Mr. Wylde s head, and on the latter s 
attempting gently to turn it aside the villain fired, and lodged 
seven slugs in his head and breast which caused instant death. 
Mr. W. expired in the arms of his son and grandson without a 
groan. A few days after, as a Mr. Greenhill was passing through 
York street in a single-horse chaise, he was met and stopped by 
three footpads armed with pistols. One of them seized and held 
the horse s head, while the other two most inhumanly dragged 
Mr. G. over the back of his chaise, and after robbing him of his 
notes, watch and hat, gave him two severe cuts on his head and 
left him in that deplorable state in the road. The above are but 
two instances of hundreds of a similar nature which yearly occur 

665 



52 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

in the most public streets of the city of London. The city is in 
fested with a still higher order of rogues, denominated pickpockets 
or cut-purses, who to carry on their nefarious practices garb them 
selves like gentlemen and introduce themselves into the most fash 
ionable circles. Many of them, indeed, are persons who once sus 
tained respectable characters, but who by extravagance and ex 
cesses have reduced themselves to want, and find themselves 
obliged at last to have recourse to pilfering and thieving. 

Thus have I endeavoured to furnish the reader with the par 
ticulars of a few of the vices peculiar to a large portion of the 
inhabitants of the city of London. To these might be added a 
thousand other misdemeanors of a less criminal nature, daily prac 
ticed by striplings from the age of six to the hoary-headed of 
ninety. This, I assure my readers, is a picture correctly delin 
eated and not too highly wrought, of a city famous for its mag 
nificence, and where I was doomed to spend more than forty years 
of my life, and in which time pen, ink and paper would fail were 
I to attempt to record the various instances of misery and want 
that attended me and my poor devoted family. 

In September, 1783, the glorious news of a definite treaty of 
peace having been signed between the United States and Great 
Britain was publicly announced in London. While on the minds 
of those who had been made rich by the war the unwelcomed news 
operated apparently like a paralytic stroke, a host of those whose 
views had been inimical to the cause of America and had sought 
refuge in England, attempted to disguise their disappointment 
and dejection under a veil of assumed cheerfulness. As regarded 
myself, I can only say that had an event so long and ardently 
wished for by me taken place but a few months before, I should 
have hailed it as the epoch of my deliverance from a state of op 
pression and privation that I had already too long endured. 

An opportunity indeed now presented for me to return once 

666 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 53 

more to my native country after so long an absence, had I pos 
sessed the means ; but such was the high price demanded for a pas 
sage and such had been my low wages and the expenses attending 
the support of even a small family in London, that I found my 
self at this time in possession of funds hardly sufficient to defray 
the expense of my own passage, and much less that of my wife 
and child. Hence the only choice left me was either to desert 
them, and thereby subject them, far separated from me, to the 
frowns of an uncharitable people, or to content myself to remain 
with them and partake of a portion of that wretchedness which 
even my presence could not avert. When the affairs of the 
American Government had become so far regulated as to support 
a Consul at the British court, I might, indeed, have availed my 
self individually of the opportunity which presented, of procur 
ing a passage home at the Government s expense; but as this was 
a privilege that could not be extended to my wife and child, my 
regard for them prevented my embracing the only means pro 
vided by my country for the return of her captured soldiers and 



seamen. 1 



To make the best of my hard fortune, I became as resigned 
and reconciled to my situation as circumstances would admit of; 
flattering myself that Fortune might at some unexpected mo 
ment so far decide in my favour as to enable me to accomplish 
my wishes. I indeed bore my affliction with a degree of fortitude 
which I could hardly have believed myself possessed of. I had 
become an expert workman at brickmaking, at which business and 
at gardening I continued to work for very small wages for three 
or four years after the peace, but still found my prospects of a 
speedy return to my country by no means flattering. The peace 
had thrown thousands who had taken an active part in the war 
out of employ; London was thronged with them, who in prefer- 

1 He that hath wife or children hath given hostages to Fortune, for they are impedi 
ments to great enterprises, whether of virtue or of mischief. Bacon. 

667 



54 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

ence to starving required no other consideration for their labour 
than a humble living, which had a lamentable effect in reducing 
the wages of the labouring class of people, who previous to this 
event were many of them so extremely poor as to be scarcely able 
to procure the necessaries of life for their impoverished families. 
Among this class I must rank myself, and from this period ought 
I to date the commencement of my greatest miseries, which never 
failed to attend me in a greater or less degree until that happy 
moment when, favoured by Providence, I was permitted once 
more to visit the peaceful shores of the land of my nativity. 

When I first entered the city of London I was almost stunned, 
while my curiosity was not a little excited by what is termed the 
"cries of London." The streets were thronged by persons of both 
sexes and of every age, crying each the various articles which they 
were exposing for sale, or for jobs of work at their various occu 
pations. I little then thought that this was a mode which I should 
be obliged myself to adopt to obtain a scanty pittance for my 
needy family; but such, indeed, proved to be the case. The great 
increase of labourers produced by the cessation of hostilities had 
so great an effect in the reduction of wages that the trifling con 
sideration now allowed me by my employers for my services, in 
the line of business in which I had been several years engaged, was 
no longer an object, being insufficient to enable me to procure a 
humble sustenance. Having in vain sought for more profitable 
business, I was induced to apply to an acquaintance for instruc 
tion in the art of chair-bottoming, and which I partially obtained 
from him for a trifling consideration. 

It was now (which was in the year 1789) that I assumed a line 
of business very different from that in which I had ever before 
been engaged. Fortunately for me I possessed strong lungs, 
which I found very necessary in an employment the success of 
which depended in a great measure in being enabled to drown the 

668 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 55 

voices of others engaged in the same occupation by my own. 
Old chairs to mend" became now my constant cry through the 
streets of London from morning to night; and although I found 
my business not so profitable as I could have wished, yet it yielded 
a tolerable support for my family some time, and probably would 
have continued so to have done, had not the almost constant illness 
of my children rendered the expenses of my family much greater 
than they otherwise would have been. Thus afflicted by addi 
tional cares and expense, although I did everything in my power 
to avoid it, I was obliged, to alleviate the sufferings of my family, 
to contract some trifling debts which it was not in my power to 
discharge. 

I now became the victim of additional miseries. I was visited 
by a bailiff employed by a creditor, who, seizing me with the claws 
of a tiger, dragged me from my poor afflicted family and in 
humanly thrust me into prison. Indeed, no misery that I ever 
before endured equalled this separated from those dependent on 
me for the necessaries of life, and placed in a situation in which 
it was impossible for me to afford them any relief. Fortunately 
for me at this melancholy moment my wife enjoyed good health, 
and it was to her praiseworthy exertions that her poor helpless 
children, as well as myself, owed our preservation from a state 
of starvation. This good woman had become acquainted with 
many who had been my customers, whom she made acquainted 
with my situation and the sufferings of my family, and who had 
the humanity to furnish me with work during my confinement. 
The chairs were conveyed to and from the prison by my wife 
[and] in this way I was enabled to support myself and to con 
tribute something to the relief of my afflicted family. I had in 
vain represented to my unfeeling creditor my inability to satisfy 
his demands, and in vain represented to him the suffering condi 
tion of those wholly dependent on me. Unfortunately for me he 
proved to be one of those human beasts who, having no soul, take 

669 



56 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

pleasure in tormenting that of others, who never feel but in their 
own misfortunes, and never rejoice but in the afflictions of others. 
Of such beings, so disgraceful to human nature, I assure the 
reader London contains not an inconsiderable number. 

After having for four months languished in a horrid prison, I 
was liberated therefrom a mere skeleton; the mind afflicted had 
tortured the body, so much is the one in subjection to the other. 
I returned sorrowful and dejected to my afflicted family, whom I 
found in very little better condition. We now from necessity 
took up our abode in an obscure situation near Moorfields, where 
by my constant application to business I succeeded in earning 
daily a humble pittance for my family, barely sufficient, however, 
to satisfy the cravings of nature ; and to add to my afflictions some 
one of my family was almost constantly indisposed. 

However wretched my situation, there were many others at this 
period with whom I was particularly acquainted, whose suffer 
ings were greater, if possible, than my own, and whom want and 
misery drove to the commission of crimes that in any other situa 
tion they would probably not have been guilty of. Such was the 
case of the unfortunate Bellamy,* who was capitally convicted and 
executed for a crime which distresses in his family, almost unex 
ampled, had in a moment of despair compelled him to commit. 
He was one of those who had seen better days, was once a com 
missioned officer in the army, but being unfortunate, he was 
obliged to quit the service to avoid the horrors of a prison, and 
was thrown on the world without a single penny or a single friend. 
The distresses of his family were such that they were obliged to 
live for a considerable time deprived of all sustenance except what 
they could derive from scanty and precarious meals of potatoes 
and milk. In this situation his unfortunate wife was confined in 

* At Dublin, Nov. 10, 1802, Thomas Edward Bellamy, an officer in the Hampshire 
militia, charged with forging a 30 bill on Messrs. Cox and Greenwood, army agents 
in London; the jury returned a verdict of guilty. Annual Register 1802, v. 44, p. 463. 

670 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 57, 

childbed. Lodging in an obscure garret she was destitute of every 
species of those conveniences almost indispensable with females in 
her condition, being herself without clothes, and to procure a cov 
ering for her new-born infant all their resources were exhausted. 
In this situation his wife and children must inevitably have starved, 
were it not for the loan of five shillings, which he walked from 
London to Blackheath to borrow. At his trial he made a solemn 
appeal to Heaven as to the truth of every particular as above 
stated, and that so far from wishing to exaggerate a single fact, 
he had suppressed many more instances of calamity scarcely to be 
paralleled; that after the disgrace brought upon himself by this 
single transaction life could not be a boon he would be anxious to 
solicit, but that nature pleaded in his breast for a deserving wife 
and helpless child. All, however, was ineffectual he was con 
demned and executed pursuant to his sentence. 

I have yet one or two more melancholy instances of the effects 
of famine to record, the first of which happened within a mile of 
my then miserable habitation. A poor widow woman, who had 
been left destitute with five small children and who had been 
driven to the most awful extremities by hunger, overpowered at 
length by the painful cries of her wretched offspring for a morsel 
of bread, in a fit of despair rushed into the shop of a baker in the 
neighbourhood, and seizing a loaf of bread bore it off to the relief 
of her starving family. While in the act of dividing it among 
them the baker (who had pursued her) entered and charged her 
with the theft. The charge she did not deny, but plead the starv 
ing condition of her wretched family in palliation of the crime. 
The baker, noticing a platter on the table containing a quantity 
of roasted meat, pointed to it as a proof that she could not have 
been driven to such an extremity by hunger; but his surprise may 
be better imagined than described, when being requested by the 
half-distracted mother to approach and inspect more closely the 
contents of the platter, to find it to consist of the remains of a 

671 



58 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

roasted dog which she informed him had been her only food and 
that of her poor children for the three preceding days! The 
baker, struck with so shocking a proof of the poverty and distress 
of the wretched family, humanely contributed to their relief until 
they were admitted into the hospital. 

I was not personally acquainted with the family, but I well 
knew one who was, and who communicated to me the following 
melancholy particulars of its wretched situation, and with which I 
now present my readers as another proof of the deplorable situation 
of the poor in England after the close of the American war. The 
minister of a parish was sent for to attend the funeral of a de 
ceased person in his neighbourhood. Being conducted to the 
apartment which contained the corpse (and which was the only 
one improved * by the wretched family ) , he found it so low as to 
be unable to stand upright in it. In a dark corner of the room 
stood a three-legged stool, which supported a coffin of rough 
boards which contained the body of the wretched mother, who had 
the day previous expired in labour for the want of assistance! 
The father w r as sitting on a little stool over a few coals of fire, en 
deavouring to keep the infant warm in his bosom. Five of his 
seven children, half-naked, were asking their father for a piece of 
bread, while another about three years old was standing over the 
corpse of his mother and crying, as he was wont to do, "Take 
me, mammy; take me, mammy!" "Mammy is asleep," said one 
of his sisters, with tears in her eyes; "mammy is asleep, Johnny; 
don t cry, the good nurse has gone to beg you some bread, and 
will soon return." In a few minutes after, an old woman, 
crooked with age and clothed in tatters, came into the room with 
a two-penny loaf in her hand, and after heaving a sigh, calmly 
sat down and divided the loaf as far as it would go, among the 
poor half- famished children; and which, she observed, was the 
only food they had tasted for the last twenty-four hours! By the 

* Occupied. 

672 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 59 

kind interposition of the worthy divine, a contribution was imme 
diately raised for the relief of this wretched family. 

I might add many more melancholy instances of the extreme 
poverty and distress of the wretched poor of London, and with 
which I was personally acquainted; but the foregoing, it is pre 
sumed, will be sufficient to satisfy the poorest class of inhabitants 
of America that, if deprived of the superfluities, so long as they 
can obtain the necessaries of life they ought not to murmur, but 
have reason to thank the Almighty that they were born Americans. 
That one-half the world knows not how the other half lives, is a 
common and just observation. Complaints and murmurs are fre 
quent, I find, among those of the inhabitants of this highly fa 
voured country, who are not only blessed with the liberty and 
means of procuring for themselves and their families the neces 
saries and comforts, but even many of the luxuries of life. They 
complain of poverty, yet never knew what it was to be really pooi\ 
Having never either experienced or witnessed such scenes of dis 
tress and woe as I have described, they even suppose their imagin 
ary wants and privations equal to those of almost any of the human 
race ! 

Let those of my countrymen who thus imagine themselves mis 
erable amid plenty, cross the Atlantic and visit the miserable 
habitations of real and unaffected woe if their hearts are not des 
titute of feeling they will return satisfied to their own peaceful 
and happy shores and pour forth the ejaculations of gratitude to 
that universal parent who has given them abundance and exempted 
them from the thousand ills under the pressure of which a great 
portion of his children drag the load of life. Permit me to en 
quire of such unreasonable murmurers have you compared your 
situation and circumstances, of which you so much complain, with 
that of those of your fellow-creatures who are unable to earn by 
their hard labour even a scanty pittance for their starving fami 
lies? Have you compared your situation and circumstances with 

673 



60 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

that of those who have hardly ever seen the sun, but live confined 
in lead mines, stone quarries and coal-pits? 

Before you call yourselves wretched, take a survey of the jails 
in Europe, in which wretched beings who have been driven to the 
commission of crimes by starvation, or unfortunate and honest 
debtors who have been torn from their impoverished families, are 
.doomed to pine. So far from uttering unreasonable complaints, 
the hearts of my highly favoured countrymen ought rather to be 
filled with gratitude to that Being by whose assistance they have 
been enabled to avert so many of the miseries of life so peculiar to a 
portion of the oppressed of Europe at the present day; and who 
after groaning themselves for some time under the yoke of for 
eign tyranny, succeeded in emancipating themselves from slavery 
and are now blessed with the sweets of liberty and the undisturbed 
enjoyment of their natural rights. Britain, imperious Britain, 
who once boasted the freedom of her government and the invin 
cible power of her arms, now finds herself reduced to the humiliat 
ing necessity of receiving lessons of liberty from those whom till 
late she despised as slaves; while our own country, on the other 
hand, like a phoenix from her ashes, having emerged from a long, 
expensive and bloody war, and established a constitution upon 
the broad and immovable basis of national equality, now promises 
to become the permanent residence of peace, liberty, science and 
national felicity. But to return to the tale of my own sufferings: 

While hundreds were daily becoming the wretched victims of 
hunger and starvation, I was enabled by my industry to obtain a 
morsel each day for my family; although this morsel, which was 
to be divided among four, would many times have proved insuffi 
cient to have satisfied the hunger of one, I seldom ever failed from 
morning to night to cry "Old chairs to mend" through the prin 
cipal streets of the city, but many times with very little success. 
If I obtained four chairs to re-bottom in the course of one day, I 

674 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 61 

considered myself fortunate indeed, but instances of such good 
luck were very rare; it was more frequent that I did not obtain a 
single one ; after crying the whole day until I made myself hoarse, 
I was obliged to return to my poor family at night empty-handed. 

So many at one time engaged in the same business that, had I 
not resorted to other means, my family must inevitably have 
starved. While crying "Old chairs to mend," I collected all the 
old rags, bits of paper, nails and broken glass which I could find 
in the streets, and which I deposited in a bag which I carried with 
me for that purpose. These produced me a trifle, and that trifle 
when other resources failed procured me a morsel of bread or a 
few pounds of potatoes for my poor wife and children. Yet I 
murmured not at the dispensation of the Supreme Arbiter of al 
lotments, which had assigned to me so humble a line of duty, 
although I could not have believed once that I should ever have 
been brought to such a state of humiliating distress as would have 
required such means to alleviate it. 

In February, 1783, war was declared by Great Britain against 
the republic of France, and although war is a calamity that ought 
always to be regretted by friends of humanity, as thousands are 
undoubtedly thereby involved in misery, yet no event could have 
happened at that time productive of so much benefit to me as this ! 
It was the means of draining the country of those who had once 
been soldiers and who, thrown out of employ by the Peace, de 
manded a sum so trifling for their services as to cause a reduction 
in the wages of the poor labouring class of people to a sum insuffi 
cient to procure the necessaries of life for their families. This 
evil was now removed; the old soldiers preferred an employment 
more in character of themselves to doing the drudgery of the city; 
great inducements were held out to them to enlist, and the army 
was not long retarded in its operations for the want of recruits. 
My prospects in being enabled to earn something to satisfy the 
calls of nature became now more flattering; the great number that 

675 



62 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

had been employed during the Peace in a business similar to my 
own were now reduced to one-half, which enabled me to obtain 
such an extra number of jobs at chair-mending that I no longer 
found it necessary to collect the scrapings of the streets as I had 
been obliged to do for many months past. I was now enabled to 
purchase for my family two or three pounds of fresh meat each 
week an article to which (with one or two exceptions) we had 
been strangers for more than a year having subsisted principally 
on potatoes, oatmeal bread and salt fish, and sometimes, but rarely, 
however, were enabled to treat ourselves to a little skim milk. 

Had not other afflictions attended me, I should not have had 
much cause to complain of very extraordinary hardships or pri 
vations from this period until the conclusion of the war in 1817. 1 
My family had increased, and to increase my cares there was 
scarcely a week passed but some one of them was seriously indis 
posed. Of ten children of which I was the father, I had the mis 
fortune to bury seven under five years of age, and two more after 
they had arrived to the age of twenty. My last and only child 
now living it pleased the Almighty to spare to me, to adminster 
help and comfort to his poor afflicted parent, and without whose 
assistance I should, so far from having been enabled once more 
to visit the land of my nativity, ere this have paid the debt of na 
ture in a foreign land, and that, too, by a death no less horrible 
than that of starvation. 

As my life was unattended with any very extraordinary cir 
cumstance (except the one just mentioned) from the commence 
ment of the war until the re-establishment of monarchy in France 
and the cessation of hostilities on the part of Great Britain in 
1817, I shall commence on the narration of my unparalleled suf 
ferings from the latter period until that when by the kind inter 
position of Providence I was enabled finally to obtain a passage 

i It is singular that Potter makes no allusion whatever to the War of 1812, though he 
must have been deeply interested in his country s second war for independence. 

676 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 63 

to my native country, and to bid an adieu, and I hope and trust a 
final one, to that island where I had endured a complication of 
miseries beyond the power of description. 

The peace produced similar effects to that of 1783. Thousands 
were thrown out of employ, and the streets of London thronged 
with soldiers seeking means to earn a humble subsistence. The 
cry of "Old chairs to mend" (and that, too, at a very reduced 
price) was reiterated through the streets of London by numbers 
who but the month before were at Waterloo fighting the battles 
of their country which so seriously affected my business in this 
line that to* obtain food (and that of the most humble kind) for 
my family, I was obliged once more to have recourse to the col 
lecting of scraps of rags, paper, glass and such other articles of 
however trifling value that I could find in the streets. 

It was at this distressing period that, in consequence of the im 
possibility of so great a number who had been discharged from the 
Service procuring a livelihood by honest means, that instances of 
thefts and daring robberies increased throughout Great Britain 
threefold. Bands of highwaymen and robbers hovered about the 
vicinity of London in numbers which almost defied suppression. 
Many were taken and executed, or transported; but this seemed 
to render the rest only the more desperately bold and cruel, while 
housebreaking and assassination were daily perpetrated with new 
arts and outrages in the very capital. Nor was the starving con 
dition of the honest poor, who were to be met with at all times of 
day and in every street, seeking something to appease their hunger, 
less remarkable. Unable to procure by any means within their 
power sustenance sufficient to support nature, some actually be 
came the victims of absolute starvation, as the following melan 
choly instance will show. A poor man exhausted by want dropped 
down in the street. Those who were passing, unacquainted with 
the frequency of such melancholy events, at first thought him in- 

677 



64 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

toxicated; but after languishing half an hour, he expired. On the 
following day an inquest was held on the body, and the verdict of 
the jury not giving satisfaction to the Coroner, they adjourned to 
the next day. In the interim two respectable surgeons were en 
gaged to open the body, in which not a particle of nutriment was 
to be found except a little yellow substance supposed to be grass, 
or some crude vegetable, which the poor man had swallowed to ap 
pease the cravings of nature. This lamentable proof confirmed 
the opinion of the jury that he died for want of the necessaries of 
life, and [they] gave their verdict accordingly. 

Miserable as was the fate of this man and that of many others, 
mine was but little better and would ultimately have been the same, 
had it not been for the assistance afforded me by my only remain 
ing child, a lad but seven years of age. I had now arrived to an 
advanced age of life, and although possessing an extraordinary 
constitution for one of my years, yet by my incessant labours to 
obtain subsistence for my family I brought on myself a severe fit 
of illness, which confined me three w r eeks to my chamber, in which 
time my only sustenance was the produce of a few half-pennies 
which my poor wife and little son had been able to earn each day 
by disposing of matches of their own make, and in collecting and 
disposing of the articles of small value of which I have before made 
mention, which were to be found thinly scattered in the streets. In 
three weeks it was the will of Providence so far to restore to me 
my strength as to enable me once more to move abroad in search of 
something to support nature. 

The tenement which I at this time rented and which was occu 
pied by my family, was a small and wretched apartment of a garret, 
for which I had obligated myself to pay sixpence per day, which 
was to be paid at the close of every week; and in case of failure 
(agreeable to the laws or customs of the land) my furniture was 
liable to be seized. In consequence of my illness and other mis- 

678 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 65 

fortunes, I fell six weeks in arrears for rent; and having returned 
one evening with my wife and son from the performance of our 
daily task, my kind readers may judge what my feelings must have 
been to find our room stripped of every article, of however trifling 
value, that it contained. 

Alas, oh heavens, to what a state of wretchedness were we now 
reduced! If there was anything wanting to complete our misery, 
this additional drop to the cup of our afflictions more than sufficed. 
Although the real value of all that they had taken from me or 
rather, robbed me of, would not, if publicly disposed of, have pro 
duced a sum exceeding five dollars, yet it was our all, except the 
few tattered garments that we had on our backs, and were service 
able and all-important to us in our impoverished situation. Not 
an article of bedding of any kind was left us on which to repose at 
night, or a chair or stool on which we could rest our wearied limbs, 
but as destitute as we were and naked as they had left our dreary 
apartment, we had no other abiding place. 

With a few half -pennies which were jointly our hard earnings 
of that day I purchased a peck of coal and a few pounds of pota 
toes; which, while the former furnished us with a little fire, the 
latter served for a moment to appease our hunger. By a poor 
family in an adjoining room I was obliged with the loan of a 
wooden bench, which served as seat and a table from which we par 
took of our homely fare. In this woeful situation, hovering over a 
few half-consumed coals, we spent a sleepless night. The day s 
dawn brought additional afflictions my poor wife, who had until 
this period borne her troubles without a sigh or a murmur, and had 
passed through hardships and sorrows which nothing but the Su 
preme Giver of patience and fortitude and her perfect confidence 
in Him could have enabled her to sustain, yet so severe an unex 
pected a stroke as the last she could not withstand. I found her 
in the morning gloomy and dejected, and so extremely feeble as 
to be hardly able to descend the stairs. 

679 



66 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

We left our miserable habitation in the morning with hopes that 
the wretched spectacle that we presented, weak and emaciated as 
we were, would move some to pity and induce them to impart that 
relief which our situation so much required. It would be, however, 
almost endless to recount the many rebuffs we met with in our at 
tempts to crave assistance. Some few, indeed, were more merciful, 
and whatever their opinion might be of the cause of our misery, the 
distress they saw us in excited their charity, and for their own sakes 
w T ere induced to contribute a trifle to our wants. We alternately 
happened among savages and Christians, but even the latter, too 
much influenced by appearances, were very sparing of their bounty. 

With the small trifle that had been charitably bestowed on us, we 
returned at night to our wretched dwelling, which stripped as it 
had been could promise us but little more than a shelter, and where 
we spent the night very much as the preceding one. Such was the 
debilitated state of my poor wife the ensuing morning, produced by 
excessive hunger and fatigue, as to render it certain that sinking 
under the weight of misery, the hand of death, in mercy to her, was 
about to release her from her long and unparalleled sufferings. I 
should be afraid of exciting too painful sensations in the minds of 
my readers were I to attempt to describe my feelings at this mo 
ment, and to paint in all their horror the miseries which afterwards 
attended me; although so numerous had been my afflictions that it 
seemed impossible for any new calamity to be capable of augment 
ing them. Men accustomed to vicissitudes are not soon dejected, 
but there are trials wiiich human nature alone cannot surmount 
indeed, to such a state of wretchedness w T as I now reduced, that had 
it not been for my suffering family life would have been no longer 
desirable. The attendance that the helpless situation of my poor 
wife now demanded it was not within my power to afford her, as 
early the next day I was reluctantly driven by hunger abroad in 
search of something that might serve to contribute to our relief. I 
left my unfortunate companion attended by no other person but 

680 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL ft. POTTER 67 

our little son, destitute of food and fuel, and stretched on an arm 
ful of straw, which I had been so fortunate as to provide myself 
with the day preceding. The whole produce of my labours this day 
(which I may safely say was the most melancholy one of my life) 
amounted to no more than one shilling, which I laid out to the best 
advantage possible in the purchase of a few of the necessaries 
which the situation of my sick companion most required. 

I ought to have mentioned that previous to this melancholy period 
when most severely afflicted, I had been two or three times driven 
to the necessity of making application to the Overseers of the Poor 
of the Parish in which I resided, for admittance into the almshouse; 
but never with any success, having always been put off by them 
with some evasive answer or frivolous pretence; sometimes charged 
by them with being an impostor and that laziness, more than real 
want, had induced me to make the application. At other times I 
was told that, being an American born, I had no lawful claim on 
the government of that country for support; that I ought to have 
made application to the American Consul for assistance, whose busi 
ness it was to assist such of his countrymen whose situation required 
it. 

But such now was my distress in consequence of the extreme ill 
ness of my wife, that I must receive that aid so indispensably neces 
sary at this important crisis, or subject myself to witness a scene no 
less distressing than that of my poor, wretched wife actually perish 
ing for the want of that care and nourishment which it was not in 
my power to afford her! Thus situated, I was induced to renew 
my application to the Overseer for assistance, representing to him 
the deplorable situation of my family, who were actually starving 
for the want of that sustenance which it was not in my power to 
procure for them ; and what I thought would most probably affect 
his feelings, described to him the peculiar and distressed situation 
of my wife, the hour of whose dissolution was apparently fast ap- 

681 



68 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

preaching. But I soon found that I was addressing one who pos 
sessed a heart callous to the feelings of humanity one whose feel 
ings were not to be touched by a representation of the greatest 
misery with w r hich human nature could be afflicted. The same cruel 
observations were made as before; that I was a vile impostor who 
was seeking by imposition to obtain that support in England which 
my own country had withheld from me : that the American Yankees 
had fought for and obtained their independence, and yet were not 
independent enough to support their own poor: that Great Britain 

would find enough to do, was she to afford relief to every d d 

Yankee vagabond that should apply for it! Fortunately for this 
abusive British scoundrel, I possessed not now that bodily strength 
and activity which I could once boast of, or the villain (whether 
within His Majesty s dominions or not) should have received on 
the spot a proof of "Yankee independence" for his insolence. 

Failing in my attempt to obtain the assistance which the lament 
able situation of my wife required, I had recourse to other means. 
I waited on two or three gentlemen in my neighbourhood who had 
been represented to me as persons of humanity, and entreated them 
to visit my wretched dwelling and to satisfy themselves by ocular 
demonstration, of the state of my wretchedness, especially that of 
my dying companion. They complied with my request and were 
introduced by me to a scene which for misery and distress they de 
clared surpassed everything that they had ever before witnessed. 
They accompanied me immediately to one in whom was invested the 
principal government of the poor of the parish, and represented to 
him the scene of human misery which they had been an eye witness 
to; whereupon an order was issued to have my wife conveyed to 
the hospital, which was immediately done, and where she was com 
fortably provided for. But, alas, the relief which her situation had 
so much required had been too long deferred her deprivation and 
sufferings had been too great to admit of her being now restored 

682 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 69 

to her former state of health, or relieved by anything that could be 
administered. 

After her removal to the hospital she lingered a few days in a 
state of perfect insensibility and then closed her eyes forever on a 
world where for many years she had been the unhappy subject of 
almost constant affliction. 

I felt very sensibly the irreparable loss of one who had been my 
companion in adversity as well as in prosperity, and when blessed 
with health had afforded me by her industry that assistance without 
which the sufferings of our poor children would have been greater, 
if possible, than what they were. My situation was now truly a 
lonely one, bereaved of my wife and all my children except one, 
who, although but little more than seven years of age was a child 
of that sprightliness and activity as to possess himself with a per 
fect knowledge of the chair-bottoming business, and by which he 
earned not only enough (when work could be obtained) to fur 
nish himself with food, but contributed much to the relief of his 
surviving parent when confined by illness and infirmity. 

We continued to improve 1 the apartment from which my wife 
had been removed, until I was so fortunate as to be able to rent a 
ready- furnished apartment (as it was termed) at four shillings 
and sixpence a week. Apartments of this kind are not uncom 
mon in London, and are intended to accommodate poor families, 
situated as w r e were, who had been so unfortunate as to be stripped 
of everything but the cloathes on their backs by their unfeeling 
landlords. These "ready-furnished" rooms were nothing but mis 
erable apartments in garrets, and contain but few more conven 
iences than what many of our common prisons in America afford 
a bunk of straw, with two or three old blankets, a couple of 
chairs and a rough table about three feet square, with an article 
or two of ironware in which to cook our victuals (if we should be 

i Occupy or use. 

683 



70 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

so fortunate as to obtain any), were the contents of the ready- 
furnished apartment that we were now about to occupy; but even 
with these few conveniences, it was comparatively a palace to the 
one we had for several weeks past improved. 

When my health would permit, I seldom failed to visit daily the 
most public streets of the city and from morning to night cry for 
old chairs to mend accompanied by my son Thomas, with a bun 
dle of flags. 2 If we were so fortunate as to obtain a job of work 
more than we could complete in the day, with the permission of 
the owner I would convey the chairs on my back to my humble 
dwelling, and with the assistance of my little son improve the even 
ing to complete the work, which would produce us a few half 
pennies to purchase something for our breakfast the next morn 
ing. But it was very seldom that instances of this kind occurred, 
as it was more frequently the case that after crying for old chairs 
to mend the whole day, we were obliged to return hungry and 
weary, and without a single half -penny in our pockets, to our 
humble dwelling, where we were obliged to fast until the succeed 
ing day. And, indeed, there were some instances in which we were 
compelled to fast two or three days successively, without being 
able to procure a single job of work. The rent I had obligated 
myself to pay every night, and frequently when our hunger was 
such as hardly to be endured, I was obliged to reserve the few 
pennies that I was possessed of to apply to this purpose. 

In our most starving condition, when every other plan failed, 
my little son would adopt the expedient of sweeping the public 
causeways (leading from one walk to the other) , where he would 
labour the whole day with the expectation of receiving no other 
reward than what the generosity of gentlemen who had occasion 
to cross would induce them to bestow in charity, and which seldom 
amounted to more than a few pennies. Sometimes the poor boy 
would toil in this way the whole day without being so fortunate 

2 Rushes or rattans. 

684 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 71 

as to receive a single half -penny. It was then he would return 
home sorrowful and dejected, and while he attempted to conceal 
his own hunger, with tears in his eyes, would lament his hard for 
tune in not being able to obtain something to appease mine. 
While he was thus employed I remained at home, but not idle, 
being as busily engaged in making matches, with which, when he 
returned home empty-handed, we were obliged, as fatigued as we 
were, to visit the markets to expose for sale, and where we were 
obliged sometimes to tarry until eleven o clock at night before 
we could meet with a single purchaser. Having one stormy night 
of a Saturday visited the market with my son for this purpose, 
and after exposing ourselves to the chilling rain until past ten 
o clock without being able, either of us, to sell a single match, I 
advised the youth (being thinly clad) to return home feeling 
disposed to tarry myself a while longer in hopes that better suc 
cess might attend me ; as having already fasted one day and night, 
it was indispensably necessary that I should obtain something to 
appease our hunger the succeeding day (Sunday), or, what 
seemed impossible, to endure longer its torments! I remained 
until eleven, the hour at which the market closed, and yet had met 
with no better success. It is impossible to describe the sensation 
of despondency which overwhelmed me at this moment. I now 
considered it as certain that I must return home with nothing 
wherewith to satisfy our craving appetites, and with my mind 
filled with the most heartrending reflections, I was about to re 
turn, when Heaven seemed pleased to interpose in my behalf, and 
to send relief when I little expected it. Passing a beef stall, I at 
tracted the notice of the butcher, who, viewing me probably as I 
was, a miserable object of pity emaciated by long fastings and 
clad in tattered garments from which the water was fast drip 
ping, and judging no doubt from my appearance that on no one 
could charity be more properly bestowed, he threw into my basket 
a beef s heart, with the request that I would depart with it imme- 

685 



72 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

diately for my home, if any I had. I will not attempt to describe 
the joy that I felt on this occasion in so unexpectedly meeting with 
that relief which my situation so much required. I hastened 
home with a much lighter heart than what I had anticipated, and 
when I arrived, the sensations of joy exhibited by my little son on 
viewing the prize that I bore produced effects as various as extra 
ordinary; he wept, then laughed and danced with transport. 

The reader must suppose that while I found it so extremely 
difficult to earn enough to preserve us from starvation, I had little 
to spare for cloathing and other necessaries ; and that this was really 
my situation I think no one will doubt, when I positively declare 
that to such extremities was I driven that, being unable to pay a 
barber for shaving me, I was obliged to adopt the expedient for 
more than two years of clipping my beard as close as possible with 
a pair of scissors which I kept for that purpose. 1 As strange and 
laughable as the circumstance may appear to some, I assure the 
reader that I state facts and exaggerate nothing. As regarded 
our clothes I can say no more than that they were the best that we 
could procure, and were such as persons in our situation were 
obliged to wear. They served to conceal our nakedness, but 
would have proved insufficient to have protected our bodies from 
the inclemency of the weather of a colder climate. Such, indeed, 
was sometimes our miserable appearance, clad in tattered garments, 
that while engaged in our employment in crying for old chairs to 
mend, we not only attracted the notice of many, but there were 
instances in which a few half -pennies unsolicited were bestowed on 
us in charity. An instance of this kind happened one day, as I 
was passing through Threadneedle street; a gentleman, perceiv 
ing by the appearance of the shoes I wore that they were about to 

i This may seem absurd to readers of the twentieth century, but at that time not a 
man in England wore hair on his face, and anyone appearing with such was at once 
known for a foreigner and became an object of popular attention of a disagreeable sort. 
-(En.) 

686 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 73 

quit me, put half a crown in my hand and bid me go and cry, "Old 
shoes to mend." 

In long and gloomy winter evenings, when unable to furnish 
myself with any other light than that emitted by a little fire of 
seacoal, I would attempt to drive away melancholy by amusing 
my son with an account of my native country, and of the many 
blessings there enjoyed by even the poorest class of people; of 
their fair fields producing a regular supply of bread; their con 
venient houses, to which they could repair after the toils of the 
day, to partake of the fruits of their labour, safe from the storms 
and the cold, and where they could lay down their heads to rest 
without any to molest them or to make them afraid. Nothing 
could have been better calculated to excite animation in the mind 
of the poor child than an account so flattering of a country which 
had given birth to his father, and to which he had received my re 
peated assurances he should accompany me as soon as an oppor 
tunity should present. After expressing his fears that the happy 
day was yet far distant, with a deep sigh he would exclaim, 
"Would to God it was to-morrow!" 

About a year after the decease of my wife I was taken ex 
tremely ill, insomuch that at one time my life was despaired of, 
and had it not been for the friendless and lonely situation in which 
such an event would have placed my son, I should have welcomed 
the hour of my dissolution and viewed it as a consummation rather 
to be wished than dreaded; for so great had been my sufferings 
of mind and body, and the miseries to which I was still ex 
posed, that life had really become a burthen to me. Indeed, I 
think it would have been difficult to have found on the face of the 
earth a being more wretched than I had been for the three years 
past. 

During my illness my only friend on earth was my son, Thomas, 
who did everything to alleviate my wants within the power of his 

687 



74 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

age to do; sometimes by crying for old chairs to mend (for he had 
become as expert a workman at this business as his father) and 
sometimes by sweeping the causeways and by making and selling 
matches he succeeded in earning each day a trifle sufficient to pro 
cure for me and himself a humble sustenance. When I had so 
far recovered as to be able to creep abroad, and the youth had 
been so fortunate as to obtain a good job, I would accompany him, 
although very feeble, and assist him in conveying the chairs home. 
It was on such occasions that my dear child would manifest his 
tenderness and affection for me by insisting, if there were four 
chairs, that I should carry but one and he would carry the remain 
ing three, or in proportion of a greater or less number. 

From the moment that I had informed him of the many bless 
ings enjoyed by my countrymen of every class, I was almost con 
stantly urged by my son to apply to the American Consul for a 
passage. It was in vain that I represented to him that if such 
an application was attended with success and the opportunity 
should be improved by me, it must cause our separation, perhaps 
forever, as he would not be permitted to accompany me at the ex 
pense of Government. 

"Never mind me," he would reply; "do not, father, suffer any 
more on my account. If you can only succeed in obtaining a pas 
sage to a country where you can enjoy the blessings that you have 
described to me I may be so fortunate as to meet with an oppor 
tunity to join you; and if not, it will be a consolation to me, what 
ever my afflictions may be, to think that yours have ceased!" My 
ardent wish to return to America was not less than that of my son, 
but I could not bear the thoughts of a separation; of leaving him 
behind exposed to all the miseries peculiar to the friendless poor of 
that country. He was a child of my old age and from whom I 
had received too many proofs of his love and regard for me not 
to feel that parental affection for him to which his amiable dispo 
sition entitled him. 

688 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 75 

I was indeed unacquainted with the place of residence of the 
American Consul. I had made frequent inquiries, but no one 
that could inform me correctly where he might be found; but so 
anxious w^as my son that I should spend the remnant of my days 
in that country where I should receive (if nothing more) a 
Christian burial at my decease, and bid farewell to a land where 
I had spent so great a portion of my life in sorrow, and many 
years had endured the lingering tortures of protracted famine, that 
he ceased not to enquire of everyone with whom he was ac 
quainted, until he obtained the wished-for information. Having 
learned the place of residence of the American Consul, and fearful 
of the consequences of delay, he would give me no peace until I 
promised him that I would accompany him there the succeeding day, 
if my strength would admit of it; for although I had partially re 
covered from a severe fit of sickness, yet I was still so weak and 
feeble as to be scarcely able to walk. 

My son did not fail to remind me early the next morning of my 
promise, and to gratify him more than with an expectation of 
meeting with much success, I set out with him, feeble as I was, for 
the Consul s. 1 

The distance was about two miles, and before I had succeeded in 
reaching half the way I had wished myself a dozen times safe 
home again, and had it not been for the strong persuasion of my 
son to the contrary, I certainly should have returned. I was 
never before so sensible of the effects of my long sufferings, which 
had produced that degree of bodily weakness and debility as to 
leave me scarcely strength sufficient to move without the assistance 
of my son, who, when he found me reeling or halting through 

i Thomas Aspinwall (1786-1876) was American Consul at London, 1815-53 a tenure 
of office only equalled by that our Consul Horatio Sprague, at Gibraltar. He was Major 
and Colonel of the Ninth Infantry during the War of 1812, and lost one arm at the 
sortie from Fort Erie. 

689 



76 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

weakness, would support me until I had gained sufficient strength 
to proceed. 

Although the distance was but two miles, yet such was the state 
of my weakness that, although we started early in the morning, 
it was half -past three o clock when we reached the Consul s office; 
when I was so much exhausted as to be obliged to ascend the steps 
on my hands and knees. Fortunately, we found the Consul in, 
and on my addressing him and acquainting him with the object of 
my visit, he seemed at first unwilling to credit the fact that I was 
an American born; but after interrogating me some time as to the 
place of my nativity, the cause which first brought me to England, 
&c., he seemed to be more satisfied. He, however, observed, on 
being informed that the lad who accompanied me was my son, that 
he could procure a passage for me, but not for him as being born 
in England the American government would consider him a Brit 
ish subject, and under no obligation to defray the expense of his 
passage; and as regarded myself, he observed that he had his 
doubts, so aged and infirm as I appeared to be, whether I should 
live to reach America if I should attempt it. I cannot say that 
I was much surprised at the observations of the Consul, as they 
exactly agreed with what I had anticipated; and as anxious as I 
then felt to visit once more my native country, I felt determined 
not to attempt it unless I could be accompanied by my son, and 
expressed myself to this effect to the Consul. The poor lad ap 
peared nearly overcome with grief when he saw me preparing to 
return without being able to effect my object. Indeed, so greatly 
was he affected and such the sorrow that he exhibited, that he at 
tracted the notice (and I believe I may add, the pity,) of the 
Consul, who after making some few enquiries as regarded his dis 
position, age, &c., observed that he could furnish the lad with a 
passage at his own expense, which he should have no objection to 
do if I would consent to his living with a connexion of his (the 
Consul s) on his arrival in America. "But," (continued he) "in 

690 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 77 

such a case you must be a while separated, for it would be impru 
dent for you to attempt the passage until you have gained more 
strength. I will pay your board where, by better living than you 
have been latterly accustomed to, you may have a chance to " re 
cruit but your son must take passage on board the London 
Packet, which sails for Boston the day after to-morrow." 

Although but a few moments previous my son would have 
thought no sacrifice too great that would have enabled us to effect 
our object in obtaining passages to America, yet when he found 
that instead of himself I was to be left for awhile behind, he ap 
peared at some loss how to determine. But on being assured by 
the Consul that if my life was spared I should soon join him, he 
consented; and being furnished by the Consul with a few neces 
sary articles of cloathing, I the next day accompanied him on board 
the packet which was to convey him to America and after giving 
him the best advice that I was capable of as regarded his behav 
iour and deportment, while on his passage and on his arrival in 
America, I took my leave of him and saw him not again until I 
met him on the wharf on my arrival at Boston. 

When I parted with the Consul he presented me with half a 
crown, and directions where to apply for board; it was at a public 
inn, where I found many American seamen who, like myself, were 
boarded there at the Consul s expense until passages could be ob 
tained for them to America. I was treated by them with much 
civility, and by hearing them daily account their various and re 
markable adventures, as well as by relating my own, I passed my 
time more agreeably than what I probably should have done in 
other society. 

In eight weeks I was so far recruited by good living as in the 
opinion of the Consul to be able to endure the fatigues of a pas 
sage to my native country, and which was procured for me on 
board the ship Criterion, bound to New York. We set sail on the 

691 



78 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

fifth of April, 1823, and after a passage of forty-two days arrived 
safe at our port of destination. After having experienced in a 
foreign land so much ill-treatment from those from whom I could 
expect no mercy, and for no other fault than that of being an 
American, I could not but flatter myself that when I bid adieu to 
that country I should no longer be the subject of unjust persecu 
tion, or have occasion to complain of ill-treatment from those 
whose duty it was to afford me protection. But the sad reverse 
which I experienced while on board the Criterion convinced me of 
the incorrectness of my conclusions. For my country s sake I am 
happy to have it in my power to say that the crew of this ship was 
not composed altogether of Americans there was a mixture of 
all nations, and among them some so vile and destitute of every 
humane principle as to delight in nothing so much as to sport 
with the infirmities of one whose grey locks ought at least to have 
protected him. By these unfeeling wretches, who deserve not the 
name of sailors, I was not only most shamefully ill-used on the 
passage, but was robbed of some necessary articles of clothing 
which had been charitably bestowed on me by the American Consul. 

We arrived in the harbour of New York about midnight; and 
such were the pleasing sensations produced by the reflection that 
on the morrow I should be indulged with the privilege of walking 
once more on American ground after an absence of almost fifty 
years, and that but a short distance now separated me from my 
dear son, that it was in vain that I attempted to close my eyes to 
sleep. Never was the morning s dawn so cheerfully welcomed as 
by me. I solicited and obtained the permission of the captain to be 
early set on shore, on reaching which I did not forget to offer up 
my unfeigned thanks to that mighty Being who had not only sus 
tained me during my heavy afflictions abroad, but had finally 
restored me to my native country. The pleasure that I enjoyed in 
viewing the streets thronged by those who, although I could not 
claim as acquaintances, I could greet as my countrymen, was un- 

692 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 79 

bounded. I felt a regard for almost every object that met my 
eye because it was American. 

Great as was my joy on finding myself once more among my 
countrymen, I felt not a little impatient for the arrival of the 
happy moment when I should be able to meet my son. Agreeable 
to the orders which I [had] received from the American Consul, 
I applied to the Customs House in New York for a passage from 
thence to Boston, with which I was provided on board a regular 
packet which sailed the morning ensuing. In justice to the cap 
tain, I must say that I was treated by him, as well as by all on 
board, with much civility. We arrived at the Long Wharf in 
Boston after a short and pleasant passage. I had been informed 
by the Consul, previous to leaving London, of the name of the 
gentleman with whom my son probably lived, and "a fellow-pas 
senger on board the packet was so good as to call on and inform 
him of my arrival. In less than fifteen minutes after receiving 
the information my son met me on the wharf! Reader, you will 
not believe it possible for me to describe my feelings correctly at 
this joyful moment. If you are a parent you may have some con 
ception of them, but a faint one, however, unless you and an only 
beloved child have been placed in a similar situation. 

After acquainting myself with the state of my boy s health, &c., 
my next enquiry was whether he found the country as it had been 
described by me, and how he esteemed it. "Well, extremely well," 
was his reply. "Since my arrival I have fared like a prince; I 
have meat every day and have feasted on American puddings and 
pies, such as you used to tell me about, until I have become almost 
sick of them!" I was immediately conducted by him to the house 
of the gentleman with whom he lived, and by whom I was treated 
with much hospitality. 

In the afternoon of the day succeeding, by the earnest request 
of my son, I visited Bunker Hill, which he had a curiosity to view, 

693 



80 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

having heard it so frequently spoken of by me while in London 
as the place where the memorable battle was fought in which I 
received my wounds. 

I continued in Boston about a fortnight, and then set out on 
foot to visit once more my native State. My son accompanied me 
as far as Roxbury, when I was obliged reluctantly to part with 
him, and proceeded myself no further on my journey that day than 
Jamaica Plain, where at a public house I tarried all night. From 
thence I started early the next morning and reached Providence 
about five o clock in the afternoon and obtained lodgings at a 
public inn in High street. 

It may not be improper here to acquaint my readers that, as I 
had left my father possessed of very considerable property, of 
which at his decease I thought myself entitled to a portion equal 
to that of the other children, which (as my father was very eco 
nomical in the management of his affairs) I knew could not 
amount to a very inconsiderable sum, it was to obtain this, if pos 
sible, that I became extremely anxious to visit immediately the 
place of my nativity. Accordingly, the day after I arrived in 
Providence, I hastened to Cranston, to seek my connexions, if any 
were to be found, and if not, to seek among the most aged of the 
inhabitants some one who had not forgotten me and who might be 
able to furnish me with the sought-for information. But, alas! 
too soon were blasted my hopeful expectations of finding some 
thing in reserve for me that might have afforded me a humble 
support the few remaining years of my life. It was by a distant 
connexion that I was informed that my brothers had many years 
since removed to a distant part of the country; that having cred-" 
ited a rumour in circulation of my death, at the decease of my 
father [they] had disposed of the real estate of which he died pos 
sessed and had divided the proceeds equally among themselves! 
This was another instance of adverse fortune that I had not antici- 

694 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 81 

pated. It was, indeed, a circumstance so foreign from my mind 
that I felt myself for the first time unhappy since my return to 
my native country, and even believed myself now doomed to en 
dure among my own countrymen (for whose liberties I had fought 
and bled) miseries similar to those that had attended me for many 
years in Europe. 

With these gloomy forebodings, I returned to Providence and 
contracted for board with the gentleman at whose house I had 
lodged the first night of my arrival in town, and to whom, for the 
kind treatment that I have received from him and his family, I 
shall feel till death under the deepest obligations that gratitude 
can dictate; for I can truly say of him that I was a stranger and 
he took me in, I was hungry and naked and he fed and clothed me. 

As I had never received any remuneration for services rendered 
and hardships endured in the cause of my country, I was now 
obliged, as my last resort, to petition Congress to be included in 
that number of the few surviving soldiers of the Revolution, for 
whose services they had been pleased to grant pensions and I 
would to God that I could add, for the honour of my country, that 
the application met with its deserving success but, although ac 
companied by the deposition of a respectable gentleman (which 
deposition I have thought proper to annex to my narrative) satis 
factorily confirming every fact as therein stated yet on no other 
principle than that I was absent from the country when the pen 
sion law passed, my petition was REJECTED ! Reader, I have been 
for thirty years (as you will perceive by what I have stated in the 
foregoing pages) subject in a foreign country to almost all the 
miseries with which poor human nature is capable of being af 
flicted, yet in no one instance did I ever feel so great a degree of 
depression of spirits as when the fate of my petition was an 
nounced to me! I love too well the country which gave me birth, 
and entertain too high a respect for those employed in its govern 
ment, to reproach them with ingratitude; yet it is my sincere 

695 



82 LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 

prayer that this strange and unprecedented circumstance of with 
holding from me that reward which they have so generally be 
stowed on others may never be told in Europe, or published in the 
streets of London, lest it reach the ears of some who had the ef 
frontery to declare to me personally that for the active part that 
I had taken in the "rebellious war" misery and starvation would 
ultimately be my reward! 

To conclude although I may be again unfortunate in a re 
newal of my application to Government for that reward to which 
my services so justly entitle me, yet I feel thankful that I am privi 
leged, after enduring so much, to spend the remainder of my days 
among those who, I am confident, are possessed of too much hu 
manity to see me suffer; which I am sensible I owe to the Divine 
goodness which graciously condescended to support me under my 
numerous afflictions and finally enabled me to return to my native 
country in the seventy-ninth year of my age. For this I return 
unfeigned thanks to the Almighty, and hope to give, during the 
remainder of my life, convincing testimonies of the strong impres 
sion which those afflictions made on my mind, by devoting myself 
sincerely to the duties of religion. 

DEPOSITION OF JOHN VIAL 

I, JOHN VIAL, of North Providence, in the county of Provi 
dence, in the State of Rhode Island, on oath certify and say that 
sometime in the latter part of November or the beginning of De 
cember, A. D. 1775, I entered as Gunner s Mate on board the 
Washington, a public armed vessel in the service of the United 
States and under the command of S. Martindale, Esq. Said ves 
sel was sent out by order of General Washington, from Plymouth, 
Mass., to cruize in Boston harbour to intercept supplies going to 
Boston, then in the possession of the British troops. After we 
had been out a short time we were captured by a British twenty- 
gun ship called the Foy and were carried to Boston, where we re- 

696 



LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF ISRAEL R. POTTER 83 

mained about a week, and were then put on board the frigate 
Tartar, and sent to England as prisoners. 

And I, the said John, further testify and say that I well re 
member Israel R. Potter, now residing in Cranston, who was a 
mariner on board the Washington also. Said Potter entered 
about the time I did, and was captured and carried to England 
with me. We arrived in England in January, 1776; we were then 
put into the hospital the greater part of the crew being sick in 
consequence of the confinement during the voyage where many 
died. I remained in imprisonment about sixteen months, when 
I made my escape. What became of said Potter afterwards I do 
not know, but I have not the least doubt he remained a prisoner 
until the peace 1783 as he stated in his application for a pen 
sion. I have no doubt he suffered a great deal during his cap 
tivity. According to my best recollection, nearly one-third of the 
crew died in the hospital. I do remember an affair which took 
place during our voyage to England which caused Potter to suffer 
a great deal more than perhaps he otherwise would: A number of 
the crew of the Washington formed a plan to rise and take the 
frigate, but were defeated in their purpose, among whom I believe 
Potter was one, and in consequence [was] put in irons for the re 
maining part of the voyage, with a number of others. And I, the 
said John, do further testify that I do not know of any of the said 
crew of the Washington now being alive, except said Potter and 
myself; and that I do not believe it to be in the power of said Pot 
ter to procure any other testimony of the above-mentioned facts 

except mine. 

JOHN VIAL 

Rhode Island District Providence, Aug. 6, 1823. 

The said John Vial, who is well-known to me and is a creditable witness, made solemn 
oath to the truth of the foregoing deposition by him subscribed in my presence. 

DAVID HOWELL, 
DISTRICT JUDGE. 

FINIS 
697 




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