Embattled Farmers

Campaigns and Profiles of Revolutionary Soldiers
 from Lincoln, Massachusetts, 1775-1783


Excerpts from Embattled Farmers

Ephraim Flint's Prisoner of War Read...
Amos Baker's 75-Year-Old Recollection Read...
How Could Jeduthan Bemis Have Been in
        Two Places at Once?
Read...
John Wheat's Divided Family Read...
David Mead Discovers the Price for Not Serving Read...

Two Places at Once?

      How could Jeduthan Bemis have served at Canada through the fall of 1776 (discharged, he says, at “the Cedars of Canada” in December 1776), and also have participated in the Battle of White Plains in New York on October 28, 1776?  His pension declaration is clear about having served at both places.  Yet the incompatibility seems so obvious that one hundred fifty years later, in a 1929 summary of his service, the Acting Commissioner for the pension records dismissed his White Plains claim with the notation, “I did not say anything about the battle of White Plains as the time covered by that he was in the expe[dition] to Canada.”

    
The record of his White Plains service, however, cannot be so easily dismissed.  The facts of his service in the New York Campaign, of his being “sent with the wounded” after the battle of White Plains, and of his discharge at North Castle in mid-November, are all well documented.

     There is another blatant problem with his pension claim: how is it possible that he could have remained in Canada until December, when the Northern Army was in full retreat by mid-June?  The members of the disastrous Canadian expedition served out their terms (through November) at Ticonderoga.  Bemis’s claim of being discharged at “the Cedars of Canada” in December must undoubtedly be incorrect: he must have been discharged either at Ticonderoga in November or December, or at “the Cedars of Canada” before the collapse of the Canadian campaign.  A Ticonderoga discharge would not resolve the conflict, but if the circumstances of an earlier discharge from Canada could be explained, then perhaps it might be possible to resolve the problem that eluded the Acting Commissioner of pension records.

            The Cedars was a portage point around a section of rapids in the St. Lawrence River, about 30 miles west of Montreal.  In the spring of 1776, as the Americans besieged Quebec, they also retained a tenuous hold on Montreal.  In April, to forestall the threat of a combined British and Indian attack on Montreal, 400 Continental troops were sent to The Cedars to build and garrison a stockade fort.  Under siege by an enemy force believed to be larger than it was in fact, both the garrison under the command of Maj. Isaac Butterfield and subsequently a 100-man relief force under Maj. Henry Sherborn surrendered on the 18th and 20th of May.  A few days later, Benedict Arnold launched a counter-offensive, under the pressure of which a prisoner exchange was negotiated on May 30.  By this time, the Canadian campaign was beginning to implode, and shortly afterward, a disorderly exodus from Canada was underway.

     If, as Jeduthan Bemis states, he was discharged at “the Cedars of Canada,” then this was undoubtedly on May 30, as a consequence of the prisoner exchange, not in December.  The pension declaration makes no reference to having been captured, but there is little other rationale for his being discharged at The Cedars.  It indicates that he had probably been detached either as part of the garrison at The Cedars, or to the relief force.  The terms of the prisoner exchange undoubtedly required that the exchanged prisoners not return to the ranks.  They would logically have been discharged to return home.

     Thus, as the rest of the Northern Army staggered back to Ticonderoga, Jeduthan Bemis must have returned home in June, after which he was drafted in September for militia service in the New York campaign.  In his pension declaration years later, he evidently remembered being in Canada and returning home in December 1776.  Ignoring, overlooking, or forgetting the intervening details, both facts are consistent with his one-year enlistment in Colonel Bond’s Regiment in December 1775.  But he also remembered the Battle of White Plains.  And while ordinarily he could not have been at both places, his misstatement contained the critical piece of information with which to thread together his story, and the particular circumstances of how, in fact, he did serve at both places—just not at the same time.

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