LIFE OF DAVID PERRY.
[National Archives of Canada transcriptions relative to the Newfoundland campaign]
[Near-death Experience] [NDE Excerpt] ["Fact or Fiction: References to David Perry's Words"]
worked at my trade this year -- the war in our part of the country
being pretty much over, a few soldiers only being retained for
In 1762, the state raised a regiment of men to go to Halifax. It was
commanded by Col. Jonathan Hoar, and Maj. Winslow was Lieut. Colonel
under him. As there was no recruiting officer near him, Col. Winslow
persuaded me to enlist once more into the service. I had orders to enlist
what men I could; and having obtained a number of recruits, I proceeded
with them to join the Regiment at the Castle, near Boston, and was directed
to enter Capt. Abel Cain's [Keen's] company. Here I was appointed a sergeant.
We shipped for Halifax, arrived there without any occurrence of note, and
encamped a little out of the town, in tents. We were employed in wheeling
off the top of Citadel
Hill, so called, in order to erect a fort upon it. Our duty
was pretty hard, but then we worked without any apprehensions of being
fired upon by an enemy.
There is one thing I would here notice, which shows a specimen of British cruelty without a parallel, I could hope, in the history of that nation. Three men, for some trifling offence which I do not recollect, were tied up to be whipped. One of them was to receive eight hundred lashes, the others five hundred apiece. By the time they had received three hundred lashes, the flesh appeared to be entirely whipped from their shoulders, and they hung as mute and motionless as though they had been long since deprived of life. But this was not enough. The doctor stood by with a vial of sharp stuff, which he would ever and anon apply to their [noses, and finding, by the pain it gave] them, that some signs of life remained, he would tell them, "d -- mn you, you can bear it yet" -- and then the whipping would commence again. It was the most cruel punishment I ever saw inflicted, or had ever conceived of before -- by far worse than death. I felt at the time as though I could have taken summary vengeance on those who were the authors of it, on the spot, had it been in my power to do it.
During this year an expedition was fitted out by the English, and American Colonies, against the Havanna, which they succeeded in taking.
In the course of the Summer, the French came and took Newfoundland. In a town called St. Johns, was a very strong fort, built with stone and lime, at the head of the harbor. The French took possession of this fort, and distressed the inhabitants very much. After it was ascertained how strong they were by land and by sea, the commander of the British land forces, Col. [William] Amherst, (brother to Gen. [Jeffrey] Amherst) and Lord Caldwell [Colvill], commander of the fleet, held a council of war on board the commander's ship. The result of the consultation was, that we had a force sufficient to go and re-take the place, and accordingly immediate preparations were made. It was necessary there should be a company selected out of our regiment for Rangers, of which Capt. William Barron was appointed commander; and as I had become somewhat familiar with a sergeant's duty, he requested me to go into his company, and I complied. When all things were ready, we set sail with three ships of the line, two or three frigates, and about two thousand five hundred soldiers, British and Americans. We had a good passage. The enemy having possession of the Harbor, we could not make the land in that direction, but were compelled to sail round a few miles to Tarpolin Cove, [Torbay Bight] where we landed, though not without much difficulty -- the wind blowing strong, and the seas ran so high, that the ships dragged their anchors. But we at length succeeded in landing all our men &c. and marched several miles through the woods, till we came within sight of the fort. They fired on us with their cannon, but we lay behind the rocks, [so that they could do us no harm. It was a fair day. I walked out alone from behind the rocks,] and saw the men in the fort about firing a cannon in the direction in which I stood. I had heard it remarked that a ball could be seen in the air after it left the cannon's mouth, and thought this a good time to ascertain the truth of what appeared so incredible to me. I stood my ground. The piece was fired, and before the ball got half way to me, I could see where it was, by its driving the air together, and forming a blue kind of substance about the size of a barrel.
There were two very high hills near the harbor of St. Johns; one was called Flagstaff-Hill, and the other Gibbet-Hill. The enemy had possession of both. These hills commanded the ground on which it was desirable to erect our Batteries, to play on the fort. On [the] Flagstaff-Hill the enemy had placed three hundred men, in a situation very difficult to be got at by an opposing force. After dark our company and a company of British Light Infantry, commanded by Capt. MacDonald [McDonnell], set out under the guidance of one of the inhabitants, and marched in an Indian file round the hill, until we were pretty near the enemy's sentinels. Here we sat down upon the ground, and remained all night without speaking a word, until day-break, when the word was whispered from the front to the rear, to march forward. We had a Frenchman in our company, and when we were hailed by the Sentinels, he would answer them in French, and by this means we succeeded in taking several of them, without alarming the main force at the top of the hill. But before we had reached the top, one of them fired on us, which gave notice of our approach to their van guard, who immediately opened a brisk fire upon our foremost men. We however rushed on till we came near their main party. In the mean time, Capt. MacDonald was so badly wounded that he died soon after, and about thirty of our party were either killed or wounded. We killed and took about the same number of the enemy. The Lieutenant [Schuyler] of the British company and myself, were foremost, and we advanced on and found their stepping-place, and while running up it, the Lt. was shot through the vitals, and he died soon after. Thus I was all alone, the remainder of our party not having gained the summit; the enemy retreated, and I followed them to the other end of the hill. -- In my route on the hill, I picked up a good French gun, and brought it home with me.
It pretty soon commenced raining exceedingly hard, and continued to rain until about midnight of the next night, when it cleared away. We remained masters of the hill, and were obliged to remain on it without a mouthful of food or drink of any sort, until morning of the second day after we started, when a British Colonel [Tulliken] came on the hill, and applauded us very highly for our exploit and success, and said we should have some refreshment. Gibbet-hill, before mentioned, was between us and the fort, and we could not tell whether there were any of the enemy's men on it or not. The British Col. told Capt. Barron to send two men to the top of this hill, and direct them to retreat if they found any body there, if they did not, to swing their hats. Capt. Barron turned immediately to me, and said "Sergeant Perry, take a man with you, and go to the top of the hill," and before I had time to pick one, he ordered Peter Laford, the Frenchman who deceived the Sentry on Flagstaff-hill, to go with me. After we had started, Peter said the Captain ought not to have sent him; for they would kill him if they took him. He said "we must throw the Priming out of our guns, and if they take us, we will tell them we deserted -- and we shall soon be re-taken." I told him he might throw his priming out if he chose, but I would not mine. The brush was so wet, however, that we could not have used our pieces, if we had occasion. We at length gained the top of the hill, and swung our hats as a signal that there was none of the enemy on it.
We could see into the enemy's fort, which was nearer to us than our men. They fired a cannon at us, the ball went over our heads, and struck on the other hill within six feet of our [own] men, who were all paraded, but did no injury. Pretty soon the Commander, with his men, came to Gibbet-Hill to look out a place for his battery, and set those of his men to work on the battery, who had not been engaged in taking Flagstaff-hill. Our company were much fatigued. -- The enemy kept up a constant fire upon us, and threw balls and shells on the hill, but did not make very great slaughter, though some of our men were killed. While a squad of regulars sat eating their breakfast in a tent, a cannon ball passed through it, and killed one man instantly; and another by the name of David Foster, belonging to Capt. Cain's company, was struck on the temple bone by a grape shot, which passed under his forehead, rolled his eyes out, and left a little piece of the lower part of his nose standing; and what I thought was very remarkable, he lived to get home -- but how much longer I do not know for a certainty; though, about ten years ago, I was credibly informed that he was [then] living in the State of Massachusetts.
We landed at the Island, on Monday morning -- on Tuesday morning took possession of Flagstaff-Hill, and on Wednesday broke up the ground for our batteries -- so that by Friday they were ready to open upon the enemy. At about 12 o'clock on Friday night, having eleven mortars fixed, we commenced throwing shells in great abundance, into the enemy's Fort, which caused much screaming and hallooing in their ranks, and did great execution. We kept them flying the remainder of the night, and until the sun was about two hours high on Saturday morning, when the enemy sent out a flag, with proposals for a capitulation. But the conditions were such as our commander could not agree to, and we went at it again as hard as ever, and so continued, till the sun was about two hours high at night. They then sent out another flag of truce, bringing word that they had concluded to comply with the terms we offered them in the morning: and about sun-set they marched out of the fort, and we marched in, and took possession.
A few days after this, three men-of-war arrived at the harbor of St. Johns from Havana, for assistance, and bringing news of the surrender of that place to the English. There was great rejoicing in the fort and on board the vessels, on the occasion of these signal successes. We remained here a short time, and, having put all things to rights, we shipped for Halifax, leaving British soldiers enough to garrison the fort.
After being some time at sea, the men grew sickly, and on our way a great many were taken sick, and I was among the number. I had the nervous fever. When we arrived at Halifax, our times were out; but I was so unwell, that instead of returning home, I was obliged to go to the hospital. I told my friends that were discharged, as we parted, that they would never see me again, for I was very sick and out of my head -- and no one thought I could live long. I remained in the hospital some time, but was so deranged that I cannot tell exactly how long. I had my reason, however, by turns; and in one of these intervals, I remember perfectly well, Doctor Matthews, the surgeon of our regiment, had me brought into his room, and tried to make me drink some sour punch, but I told him I could not. He asked me if I did not love it when I was well. I told him I did. At another time I came to myself so much as to know that the body lice were eating me up, and told one of those who waited on me, to heat a tailor's goose which was in the room, and iron my blanket on both sides, which he did, and it turned it as red as blood.
Capt. Barron staid with us all winter, and the British gave him a Lieutenant's commission in the standing army, for his valor in taking Flagstaff-Hill at Newfoundland. He came to see me, and I told him I wanted to go home. He asked me if I would not have staid, if I had been well. I told him, no. He then said he would see that I was put a-board the first vessel that sailed for Boston. He asked me if I had any money. I told him I did not know what had become of my money or clothes; upon which he took from his pocket a cob dollar and gave it me, but what became of it I never knew. -- The Captain was as good as his word, for in a few days after I was put a-board a vessel for Boston. I do not know the name of the Captain, nor how long I was on the passage: but I remember they once took me up on deck, it being a very pleasant day, and combed my head, and my hair all rolled off.
While I was on board that vessel, it appears to me that I died -- that I went
through the excruciating pains of the separating of soul and body, as
completely as ever I shall again, (and such a separation must soon take
place) and that I was immediately conveyed to the gate of Heaven, and was
going to pass in; but was told by one, that I could not enter then, but in
process of time, if I would behave as he directed, on the set time I should
have admittance. It appeared to me that my feet stood on a firm foundation,
and that I stood there for the space of about a half hour. In this time there
appeared to be a continual flowing up of people, as we suppose they die; and
none stopped, but all passed off, one way or the other. Just at my left hand,
there appeared to be the opening of a great gulph, and the greater part of the
grown people seemed to pass off there. Once in a while one passed through
the gate into the Holy City.
One person appeared, with whom I had been intimately acquainted,
and it appeared to me that I knew him as well as ever I
did: it was Doct. Matthews -- [and whether I saw him or not, he died, as I
afterwards learned, while I was sick on board the ship]. The one that talked
with me, told me about the Revolutionary War, and showed me the British
vessels in the harbor of Boston, as plainly as I saw them when they came.
And during the first year of that war, I was down there in Gen. Putnam's
regiment, and I went on Roxbury
hill to see the shipping in the harbor, and
they looked exactly as they had been shown to me many years before. This
transition (as I firmly believe) from life to death, and from death to life, which
took place nearly sixty years ago, is as fresh in my mind now as it was then;
and not many days have passed from that time to this, which have not
brought the interesting scenes I then witnessed, clearly to view in my mind.
But I never dared to say any thing about it, for a great many years afterwards,
for fear of being ridiculed. But about the [last of February or first of January,
1763], peace was declared between England, France and Spain, and the
people rejoiced exceedingly on account of it. I told them we should have
another war soon. They asked me why I thought so. I told them the British had
settled peace with their foreign enemies, but they could not long live in peace,
and they would come against us next. But I never told my own wife, nor any
other person, of what happened to me on board the vessel, as above related,
for nearly thirty years afterwards, when a great deal was said in the
neighborhood where I lived, about one Polly Davis of Grantham, N.H., who
was taken very sick, so that no one thought she could live long, and many
times the people thought she was dying. In one of these turns she had a
dream or vision, by which she was assured that, on a stated Sunday, she
should be healed, and go to meeting the same day. On the Saturday night,
previous to the time appointed, many people stood round her bed, expecting
every moment that she would breathe her last: but when the hour she had
mentioned arrived, she rose from her bed, and said she was well: and
Captain Robert Scott carried her some distance to meeting, behind him on
horseback, the same day she recovered. There was so much talk about it,
that I ventured to tell my experience as before described, and have since told
it to a great many people; and some believe it, and others do not.
But to return to my narrative. -- When we arrived in Boston harbor, the authority of the place would not permit the sick to be brought into town, for fear of the fever; and I was carried to the Castle. A Major Gay, who was there at the time, was very kind to me, and took me into his room, and gave me some refreshment. -- He asked me if I had any friends that would come and take care of me, if they knew I was there. I told him that I did not doubt but that my uncle David Joy would come, if he knew it; upon which he sat down and wrote him a letter, and despatched a boat a-shore, with directions to leave it at Martin's tavern, where, it fortunately happened, was a man going directly to Rehoboth, who took the letter and carried it to my uncle that very night. The second day after the letter was written, my uncle arrived with a horse and chair, and took me off by the way of Dorchester Point. When I got into the chair, I felt nicely; and told my uncle, that if the horse could stand it, I would ride home that night, a distance of forty-four miles. But my resolution soon forsook me. I became extremely weak, and my delirium returned, so that my uncle was unable to get me to a tavern. He carried me to a private house the first night, and it took him three days more to get me home, where we arrived on the ninth day of December, which was the day appointed by the civil authority for public Thanksgiving. -- I think I had the greatest reason to give thanks to God, of any body in the world, for sparing my life in so many trying scenes, and safely returning me to my friends again.
I remained sick at my uncle's house about two months, and my recovery for
most of that period, was considered doubtful; but in process of time it pleased
God to restore me to health.