The Admonition of Capt. David Perry (1819): A Revolutionary War Soldier Speaks Today

      The Admonition      
of Captain David Perry (1819)

An Account of the Battle of Plattsburgh and Lake Champlain
and Vermont's Role in It

from Recollections of an Old Soldier written by David Perry in 1818-1819.
Combined electronic edition © 1998-2013 by D.G. Jones, ed.

by D.G. Jones, M.M. © 2003-2013
The year is 1814. The War of 1812 has raged for two years. On August 31st, 1814, an invasion force of 10,000 British troops crosses the Canadian-American border. Many of them are Wellington's veterans. On Sept. 6th they attack Plattsburgh, New York, and capture the north and west parts of the town amid brisk resistance by the American defenders. They are held in check by the presence of the American fleet anchored in Cumberland (Plattsburgh) Bay. While the British build batteries and wait for their own fleet to arrive, Vermont volunteers are racing to Plattsburgh to help their compatriots, despite opposition from their own governor (a Federalist) who refuses to order the militia beyond Vermont's borders.
At eight o'clock in the morning on the September 11th, the British fleet rounds Cumberland Head. The British flagship Confiance, a frigate, is the largest sailing ship ever to grace the lake.
At nine o'clock, both fleets and land batteries open fire. Crowds of people on both sides of the lake watch the battle, or hear from a distance the cannon fire and see the smoke rising...
N.B. There are incorrect reports of the events of Septemeber 11th, 1814 in print and online.

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[Excerpt from Recollections of an Old Soldier: The Life of Captain David Perry. Combined electronic edition, D.G. Jones, ed. © 1998.]  
". . . In 1797, I moved to Chelsea, Vt. and . . . for a portion of the time we have been a state much opposition has been manifested by a part of our citizens, to-wards the general government,• and in a very bad time, too, -- in a time of war, when we ought to have united as a band of brothers in the common cause of our country. But we were not alone in this evil. It has pervaded most of the New England states. I have lived to see four wars in our country, and the last was attended with difficulties harder to be surmounted than any of the other wars, by reason of the enmity, towards the General Government, of that portion of the people, who declared there was no cause of war with England, although she had taken between nine hundred and a thousand of our vessels, impressed some thousands of our citizens, and sent the Indians to massacre our defenceless inhabitants -- and not-withstanding the General Government had done every thing to effect an accommodation of their differences, and obtain redress for our grievances, without a resort to arms.

I desire it may never be forgotten by my posterity, for whom I have written these memoirs, that there was once a time, when party spirit raged to an extent that threatened the destruction of those liberties, which I had some small share in establishing. I hope they will never forget, that when war was declared to maintain those liberties, there were men claiming all the wealth, talents and religion of the country, who, from party, or worse motives, held back their resources from Government, and did all in their power to keep those who were disposed to lend an assisting hand, from entering into their country's service.

"In the time of the Revolution we had a few such men among us, who set much by the British Government, and we drove them out of the country, or confined them at home, so that they could not meet in Convention•, in the heart of the land, to plot against the government, and divide the Union.

"And I desire it may be remembered, that notwithstanding they boasted of their talents and religion, the Lord stood by us and put our enemies to flight in a marvellous manner, and wrought wonders for us as a nation: and we have the greatest reason to bless and praise his holy name, of any people on the earth.

"--Let it be remembered, as a warning to future generations, of the dangerous effect of party spirit, when carried to excess, that a governor of Vermont,<1> at a time when the enemy threatened a powerful invasion of our frontier towns, with the avowed intention of laying them in ruins, stood on the shores of the lake, discouraging our [valiant] freemen from going to the assistance of their brethren, by telling them they would be killed if they went over--when he, and every other person of common sense, knew, that it would not be more than six hours before the enemy would be at Burlington,• if he beat our men at Plattsburgh•.

"But let it also, with gratitude, be remembered, that while the chief magistrate was thus employed, the gallant Col. Fassett<2> encouraged and prevailed on them to go forward --and they did go forward to participate in a glorious battle and victory, which preserved our towns from conflagration, and wiped the foul stain from the character of our state, which the conduct of this Governor would otherwise have brought upon it.

"While the enemy were thus discomfited by land, we beheld the British fleet on the lake heaving in sight of the little squadron of the invincible Macdonough•,<3> who was on his knees, praying to his God;<4> and He answered him by fire, as in former times<5> -- and notwithstanding the enemies' superior force, they were obliged to strike -- and on that ever-memorableeleventh of September,<6> the Lord discomfited their whole force, and returned them back from whence they came: so that we may see, that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much: and that the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.<7>

"For the great men of a great state<8> said, that it was unbecoming a moral and religious people to pray for the success of our arms and that we must not fight the British, because they were 'the Bulwark of our Religion'.<9> But I cannot but think, that they were deluded and blinded by party prejudices, and that the good hand of God was discernible at Baltimore•, New Orleans•, and Plattsburgh• -- on Lake Erie• and Lake Champlain•, and everywhere else that a traitor did not command.<10>

"Had not the Lord been on our side, and fought our battles,<11> we must have failed to maintain our liberties against so potent a foe• from abroad, aided by so many of our misguided people at home<12> and it becomes us as a people (as I have before said), to bless and praise His Holy name forever,<13> that He caused us to overcome our powerful enemies in two wars<14> for our independence, and that there seems now to be so happy a union taking place among ourselves that those of our fellow-citizens who have been thus deluded and deceived, are sensible of their errors, and appear ready to unite with all real friends of their country's honor and prosperity.  

"And I pray God that this bond of union may continue to grow firmer and stronger, till every American citizen will be of one heart and one mind,<15> in a determination to support our Republican form of Government to the latest posterity.  May we all remember the maxim of our illustrious Washington: 'United We Stand; Divided We Fall.'<16>

"When we reflect back to our Revolutionary War, and see how much blood and treasure were spent to gain our independence, shall we, after so long an experience of the advantages arising from so good a government, be any more deceived by internal or foreign enemies? Shall we contrast the mildness of our government, and the civil and religious liberty that we enjoy under it, with the bigotry and tyranny which prevails under the monarchies of Europe, and say we are willing to exchange the former for the latter? I dare say not.

"Then let me conjure my posterity<17> to stand by this government of our choice, and never be deceived by political or ecclesiastical demagogues.<18> Let the people keep the right and power of Election always in their own hands, and at their annual freemen's meetings<19> be sure to choose men into office, who are true friends of a Republican Government. Let them encourage all the arts and sciences that are necessary in a Republic, and none others and in this way they may perpetuate their liberties.

"But if they are ambitious to ape the follies, extravagance, and luxury of European countries, their freedom can have but a short duration. But above all, let us as a nation dedicate ourselves to God,<20> and pray that he would have us in his holy keeping, and so direct the councils of our nation, as may tend to preserve its free institutions to the latest period of time, which is the ardent prayer of

"David Perry.    
Chelsea, Vt. 1819."<21>
[Excerpt from Recollections of an Old Soldier: The Life of Captain David Perry. Combined electronic edition, D.G. Jones, ed. © 1998.]  
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* Revolutionary War Soldier = Capt. David Perry (1741-1826). The foregoing is David's conclusion to his book [finished in 1819], and contains his admonition to his descendants and to future generations of Americans. (See Chapter 12.) David Perry had fought for independence in the Revolutionary War and witnessed the 'second war for independence,' or the War of 1812 with which this excerpt begins. (Source: Perry, David. Recollections of an old soldier: the life of Captain David Perry, a soldier of the French and Revolutionary Wars, containing many extraordinary occurrences relating to his own private history, and an account of some interesting events in the history of the times in which he lived, no-where else re-corded / written by himself.   Jones, Denise G., ed., combined electronic edition, © 1998. Originally pub: Windsor, Vermont: Republican and Yeoman Printing-Office, 1822.)

1 Martin Chittenden•, 1763-1840, governor• of Vermont from 1813-1815.

2 Col.Fassett = General Elias Fassett, born Dec. 20 1771 in Bennington, Bennington Co., VT, the son of Capt. John Fassett, Jr. and Hannah[?] Safford. He married there Sarah Walbridge (b: 1772, Bennington, VT), the daughter of Henry Walbridge and Anna Safford who were both originally from Norwich, CT (the township to which David Perry's father had removed and raised a second family after the death of Sarah [Joy] Perry in 1748). The children of Elias and Sarah [Wallbridge] Fassett were born in Cambridge, Lamoille, VT.
Elias Fassett was "brigadier general of the militia of northwestern Vermont the outbreak of the war of 1812...In 1813 he resigned his commission in the Vermont state service and [on 23 Feb. 1813] secured a commission as colonel in the regular army" (Ward, Follett...Genealogy and History. See also Hammersly's Regular Army Register, and Fassett, Fassett Genealogy).
"The Vermont Historical Magazine, in speaking of the military enthusiasm of northern Vermont, where recruits were raised for the Indian wars, the war with Tripoli, and the regular army and navy, says: 'It [Burlington] was also, a recruiting station during the War of 1812, and in 1813 the Thirtieth Regiment of U.S. Infantry, under Colonel Elias Fassett, was mustered and drilled here, preparatory to joining the army for actual service.'" (Ward, and Fassett).
Hiram Harwood, a farmer of Bennington, Vermont, recorded in one of his diaries: "Monday, June 7, 1813 - Many of us went down to where Col. Fassett's regiment took its departure [from Bennington] for Burlington, [VT•,] which they did in a brilliant manner." (Ward, Follett...Gen. & Hist.)   Fassett was honorably discharged from the army on 15 June 1815 (Historical Register and Dictionary of US Army 1789-1903). Burlington may have been the residence of Elias Fassett at the time of the Battle of Plattsburgh [New York], or at some point, for he died there 15 Aug. 1822 (the year of the publication of David Perry's memoir).
In declaring that the battle had "preserved our towns from conflagration," David Perry was speaking from experience. Following the current tradition of European warfare, the British burned towns of the enemy, as he well knew, having been ordered to do the same to French settlements at the Siege of Quebec in 1759 as part of the provincial ranger forces. More recently, the whole country had been outraged when British forces burned the nation's capital in August 1814.

3 "the invincible Macdonough" = Thomas Macdonough (1783-1825), a lieutenant of the U.S. Navy before 1812 who had seen action at Tripoli. He was given the rank and title of Master Commadant and -- by his duties on Lake Champlain -- was considered a commodore at the time of the Battle on Lake Champlain in 1814. In November 1814 Macdonough was given the rank of captain in November 1814, to date from the 11th of September. During the battle, Vermont civilians stood on the shores of the Lake viewing the battle as they could, some with the aid of a "glass" (spy-glass or telescope). It is evident that Capt. David Perry was one of these Vermonters, an eye witness to the events he so eloquently relates. His record is one of many reminiscences of the battle. Perry's describes Macdonnough as invincible perhaps because twice in the battle Macdonough was knocked unconscious, revived, and continued command. In preparing the fleet as well as in commanding it, he "had labored unceasingly [for two years], persevering in the face of every discouragement, undismayed by temporary reverses, overcoming every obstacle, patient, resolute" (Rodney Macdonough, Life of Commodore Macdonough, 205.)

4 Macdonough's grandson Rodney Macdonough (b. 1863), in his biography of the commodore's life, described the scene just "minutes before the battle commenced" (Russ Pickett. "One of Delaware's Heros." 11 July 2003):
�There was now a hushed, expectant moment like the stillness which precedes the storm. Macdonough, whose manly courage was supported by a childlike faith, knelt on the deck of the flagship [Saratoga] with his officers around him and repeated the prayer appointed by the Church to be said before a fight as sea" (Rodney Macdonough, Life, 177; see also 276, 262). That prayer is recorded in the The Book of Common Prayer• as follows:

O MOST powerful and glorious Lord God, the Lord of hosts,
    that rulest and commandest all things;
Thou sittest in the throne judging right, and therefore we make our address
    to thy Divine Majesty in this our necessity, that thou wouldest take the
    cause into thine own hand, and judge between us and our enemies.
Stir up thy strength, O Lord, and come and help us; for thou givest not
    alway the battle to the strong, but canst save by many or by few.
O let not our sins now cry against us for vengeance; but hear us thy poor
    servants begging mercy, and imploring thy help, and that thou wouldest
    be a defence unto us against the face of the enemy.
Make it appear that thou art our Saviour and mighty Deliverer,
    through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Source: �The Prayer to be said before a fight at sea against any enemy" in "Forms of Prayer to Be Used at Sea"•; Thomas Macdonnough, a devout Anglican, undoubtedly used The Book of Common Prayer published in 1789.)

Macdonough was unostentatious in all areas of his public life, both before and after the victory of Lake Champlain. He was surprised and humbled by the honors subsequently showered upon him; he felt he was simply doing his duty to God and to his country (Rodney Macdonough, Life, 209, 211, 261). Macdonough was known as a faithful, zealous, consistent Christian. Kind to his men, "'he was remarkable...for the mildness of his manners and yet pecupliar for his enforcement of discipline.'" (Ibid., 255, 262). "The confidence of his officers and men in him was unbounded" (155).
On Sunday, September 4th, a week before the action on Lake Champlain. a young man from Yale dined with Macdonough and his officers after "divine services." He reported: "'While awaiting the dinner hour [Macdonough] entered freely into conversation on religious services in the navy, and, among other things, remarked that he regarded the Epistle of James as peculiarly suited to the sailor's mind; the illustrations drawn from sea life -- such as "He that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind", and "Behold the ships, though so great, are turned about with a very small helm" -- are very striking, and then the plain and forcible manner in which the ordinary duties of life are taught, and the sins of men are specified and condemned, are easily comprehended, even by men as little instructed as seamen usually are. My youthful ears were all attention to such language and in such associations. At dinner a blessing, being invited, was offered by the chaplain, and it appeared to be no unusual thing.' " (Joseph H. Dulles quoted in Rodney Macdonough, Life, 155-156). In the midst of the meal, the commodore said, "'Gentlemen, I mean the sailor gentlemen, I am just informed by the commander of the army that the signs of advance by the British forces will be signalled by two guns, and you will act accordingly.'" (ibid. 156)

5   "former times" = previous years; in this case ancient, Old Testament times. "He answered him by fire" = Perry likens the result of Macdonough's prayer to that of the prophet Elijah when in contest with the priests of Baal. (See Influences.)  

6  September 11, 1814, the date of Commodore Thomas Macdonnough's victory• on Lake Champlain.• See introduction above.

7  Perry here quotes James 5:16 in reference to Commodore Macdonough, and Proverbs 15:8 in reference to opponents of the war in high places, particularly in Massachusetts.

8  "great state" = Massachusetts. "great men" = Governor Caleb Strong, and the Federalist majority in the Massachusetts legislature such as Josiah Quincy who opposed both the war and the Republican President James Madison. Pro-British, antiwar sentiment was spurred by clergymen, merchants and legislators in Massachusetts and throughout New England.  See Matthew Carey, The Olive Branch; and Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict.

9 bulwark of our religion. This phrase was used by Federalist Governor Caleb Strong of Massachusetts [1800-07, 1812-16], who opposed war with England. In a proclamation dated 26 June 1812, just after war was declared, Strong defended England as "'the nation from which we are descended, and which for many generations has been the bulwark of the religion we profess.' (New England Palladium, 30 June 1812, p.1.)" According to Albert Matthews, "At once 'the bulwark of our religion' and 'Bulwark Strong' became bywords in the war [news]papers...�Even as late as March 15, 1823, the expression was still remembered. (See Niles� Register of that date, XXIV, 32.)" (Albert Matthews, Uncle Sam, Reprinted from the Proceedings of The American Antiquarian Society Volume XIX, Worcester, Massachusetts, The Davis Press, 1908. Case Western Reserve University. 2002.
Perry quoted the phrase from pamphlets or newspapers in circulation at the time. In The Olive Branch, Matthew Carey quoted the phrase as �the bulwark of our holy religion� in a denunciation of Federalists Timothy Pickering and Rufus King (Olive Branch, p. 206). (Go to or for later references during the Congressional debates on the "Foote Resolution." For a contemporary reference see Henry Brackenridge, Modern Chivalry online at the Univeristy of Virginia.) During the War of 1812, Great Britain was seen by New England Federalists as the bulwark of Protestantism against the excesses (and Catholicism) of the French. They were bitterly opposed to Republicans, some of whom had sympathized with the republican movement in France and now favored a liaison with Napoleon. Politics were preached over pulpits by those who secretly aligned themselves with the British Empire for gain. During this time, the Constitution was criticized, the Union threatened, and Pres. James Madison denounced as a tool of Napoleon. After Napoleon's defeat in May 1814, influential Federalist John Lowell, Jr. ("the Boston rebel") called for the country to send "Mr. Madison" to Elba. (Olive Branch, 10th ed., 10, 11, 312.)
For a better understanding of this period of political upheaval and threatened secession from the Union by the New England states see Carey, The Olive Branch, and Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict.

10 Baltimore, New Orleans, Plattsburgh, Lake Erie and Lake Champlain are all battles• of the War of 1812, which ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, just five years before Capt. Perry wrote his Recollections. In referring to battles where "a traitor" commanded, Capt. Perry, earlier in his Recollections, refers for example to Generals Wilkinson, Hampton and Hull.

11 "Had not the Lord been on our side, and fought our battles." See 2 Chronicles 32:8; and Psalms 124:1-2. David Perry's writing was influenced both by the Bible (a legacy of the Massachusetts common schools and the Puritain tradition), by Sunday sermons, and by the newspapers and pamphlets in circulation at the time. He was also familiar with Dr. David Ramsay's The History of the American Revolution published in 1789, and probably read other books as he could. (See Influences.)

12 Many in the New England states had closer ties with Great Britain than with their own General (Federal) Government, for a number of reasons (commercial, in religion, in loyalty). Because of the general attitude, the War of 1812 verged on (and perhaps forestalled) a civil war.

13 "bless and praise his Holy name."  One familiar with the following words by Samuel F. Smith and Francis Scott Key cannot help but think of them here:

"...Our father's God, to thee, Author of liberty, To Thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright With freedom's holy light.
Protect us by thy might, Great God, our King!"   ["My County, 'Tis of Thee," Samuel F. Smith]
"...Oh, thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is out trust!'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"   ["The Star-Spangled Banner," Francis Scott Key, 1814]

14  "two wars for our independence" = the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.•   Although there was no overt victor in the War of 1812,• the fledgling United States won its place as a free and independent country upon the high seas -- and thus in the global arena.  Until pressed, and her prowess exhibited, her freedom from British rule was confined to the home-base setting.  With the ousting of France from North America in the Seven Years' War (French and Indian War), Britain had achieved global sovereignty. In the War of 1812, Americans were able to hold their own against the mightiest fleet in the world and, through their victories, proved they were a power to be reckoned with. Equally significant, America survived the threatened secession of the New England states, and reaffirmed the Union of her States.

15 "of one heart and one mind"   Perhaps no words evoke so strongly the following sentiments of Katherine Lee Bates, as does the final admonition and prayer of David Perry:

"...Oh, beautiful for patriot dream That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam, Undimmed by human tears!  
America! America! God shed his grace on thee..." (20)

16  The maxim "United We Stand; Divided We Fall" dates back to Aesop's fables such as "The Bundle of Sticks" whose moral, �Union gives strength,� had obvious application to the Thirteen Colonies. It was first used in reference to the colonies by John Dickinson as a line in his poem "The Liberty Song" written in 1768: "by uniting we stand, by dividing we fall." In the form �United we stand; divided we fall,� it became the watchword of the Revolution. The maxim was perhaps employed by Washington when he took command of the army in 1775 at the siege of Boston, where David Perry was then serving.

17 "my posterity".  At the time of his book's publication (1822), Capt. David Perry and his wife Anna Bliss had at least 51 descendants, most of them living: 8 children, and at least 30 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. This total reflects only those research has revealed as of Sept. 1997. At the present time, David Perry's descendants number into the thousands and are scattered across the United States and around the world.

18 demagogue = a leader who obtains power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace. (See Carey's Olive Branch for an account of the involvement of civil and religious leaders in the propagation of anti-war, secessional sentiment.)

19 freemen's meetings = town meetings at which taxes, Representatives, etc. were voted on, and other town business was taken care of.  Until his death in 1826, David Perry took an active part in town affairs wherever he lived.

20 See note 15.

21 David Perry bought land in Chelsea, Vermont in 1796, moving his family there in 1797. He lived in Chelsea until shortly after his book's publication. Around 1823, Perry and his wife moved with their son Nathaniel Green Perry to Ira, Vermont, where he died on 2 May 1826; he was nearly 85 years old. His grave in Ira's Riverside Cemetery and has two markers, one erected by his family and one by the State of Connecticut in recognition of his patriotic service to his country during the Revolutionary War.  
Fassett, Katherine Schuster. The Fassett genealogy: Descendants of Patrick and Sarah Fassett. Binghampton, NY: KF Schuster, 1974.
Hamersly, Thomas H. S. Complete Regular Army Register of the United States for One Hundred Years (1779 to 1879), and A List of Appointments Made by the President in the Volunteer Service 1861-1865, and A list of Military Forts, Arsenals, Camps, Barracks, etc. (various pub. 1870-1882).
Macdonough, Rodney. Life of Commodore Thomas Macdonough, U. S. Navy. Boston: The Fort Hill Press, S. Usher, 1909.
(See also Russ Pickett. One of Delaware's Heros: Captain Thomas Macdonough. Delaware State Web Site.•)
Ward, Harry Parker. Follett-Dewey-Fassett-Safford-Hopkins-Robinson-Fay Genealogy and History. Champlin Printing Co., 1896.
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