Autobiographical Writings of Ebenezer Foote

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Memoirs of the Life of Ebenezer Foote —

I was the 6th Child of Daniel Foote the son of Nathaniel whose Father came from Durham? in England and Settled in a Town of the Same Name in Connecticut—my grandfather was on elf the Proprietors and first settlers of the Town of Colchester, where I was Born on the 12th day of April, 1756, My Father having a Numerous Family and Barely possessing a Competency to Support them was Unable to give his Children an Education Eaqual to their wishes They were however taught to Read and write a Legible hand I was allowed to go to School until I was Eleven years old after which I never was at School a Day.

when I was in my twelth year — having a Desire to See the world I left my fathers house in the Night and travelled to New London about 20 Miles Distant with an Intent to Embark for the West Indies with my Oldest Brother. [Daniel Foote, b. 1744-dff] but after Spending two Nights in a Barn in the Month of December — the Captain Discovered and sent me Back to my Father who Reced. me without correction a thing Rather uncommon as he was Seveer in his Discipline —

The following Spring I was Sent on Foot and alone to Brookfield in order to Learn the Trade of house Carpenter and Chaise Maker of one Hitchcock a Relation of my Mother — he being a Moross Unsociable fellow I soon got Sick of him and his trade

Ebenezer Foote Memoir detroit public library.png

In the fall I had a Severe fit of the Bilious Cholic, nearly deprived me of Life but geting ___ my Father Sent for me home In the I was Bound an Apprentice to one Chamberlain of East Windsor to Learn the Trade of ___ making when I Continued to Serve faithfully until the year 1775 when the [coming] War — By consent of My Master [allowed] a private soldier in Coll George Pith___? Company and arrived at Camp at Roxbury with enough to share in the famous Battle of Bunker hill where the Brave Warren fell. when the British Entered the works — after retreated from the Hill and I Repaired immediately to Roxbury and Joined my Company when severely Reprimanded for Absenting myself to Cambridge and Bunker hill without my officers — during the Campaign opportunities offered of seeing the Evening Intrenchments and being a private I had no means of Gratifying the Inclination I the felt However one afternoon I went to go out in Boston Bay a fishing with others of the Company in Two whale ___ing the time we were fishing I observed a few of the British on Moon Ysland and after a Little persuasion prevailed Comrades to Land which we did & ___ Enemy Consisting of a Segments [Regiment/Sergeant?] on the Retreat we proceeded on and Set fire to about 40 thousand Bails and 20 Tons of hay they had Collected to Carry to Boston the Alarm was Given and Boats were Dispatched from the R? ship of war and the Castel. my Comrades by the persuasion of one Olmsted the Adjutant Embarked while I was Setting fire to the farther most h[e]ap of hay) and left me but on Coming to the point and Calling for them one boat Returned and wee got Safe to Squantum though the British were very near overtaking us and kept up a heavy fire which Generally went over us — The throops on Shore were alarmed & paraded at our Landing. the officers after inquiring the Cause of the alarm age me a Severe Reprimand and ordered that I should go no more on fishing voyages — as the whole was Charged to my Account —

The next Spring I went a Volunteer on Dorchester Point when the first workes were Erected on that and Nook point [the northern most section of South Boston, now the bridge from East Berkeley street, formerly Dover, to West Fourth, and Broadway, in South Boston] where I Stayed Seven days and Caught a violent Cold which Almost Deprived me of my Eye Sight for 2 Months — our terms <of Enlistment> being Expired I Returned home and settled with my Master who Recd all my wages and Bounty money ,_____> long crossed out area <Except the _ I twenty __ years ___>

about 6 weeks at my Trade and then in Capt Simon Wollcots Company in East Windsor to go to New York — I set out in the Capacity of Corporal — after we arrived in New York — I was ordered by the Colo __ay to Learn the officers of the Regt an unusual Exercise which I found was a hard task as they were Generally very __t and by no means wiling to Submit to discipline being Generally ould honest men who thought <it> Inconsistent with the character of Freemen to Submit to the ___ in Necessary to form the Character of a Soldier — I was however Relieved from that duty after two weeks after we were ordered on guard as the British Landed there and gave us business to Transact. The Night that as ___ the British were Landing there was a violent Thunder Storm and there being artilrymen at Brooklyn I turned out ___ with others to Asist Capt. Randall convey two Brass 6 pounders and one nine pound Howitzer to Graves End in order to oppose the army of the British. We had a Horrid Night crossing obliged to draw the piece ourselves because flashes of Lighting Rendered us Blind to the Road. We arrived at the high Ground near Graves End about 4 oClock in the Morning where we Continued untill the next day when we were ordered to occupy the hight Ground to the Eastward that overlooked the flat Land near the Church which Station wee kept untill the Battle of Long Island frequently going down and firing on the British at and Near the Church. In one of the Excursions wee were Covered by a party of Riflemen under the Command of Major Green and had orders to Burn the wheat Stacks where the Enemies Picket Guard was kept which was performed but not without the Loss of Some men killed and a few wounded amongst which was Major Green and Thompson of the Rifle men. we had one of our Guns Dismounted by a Shot which struck the Band over the Trunnion but we Saved it — Our Howitzer was Struck on the Side of the Muzzle by a Shot and Battered 6 Inches — three horses wee had Reced the day before; were killed so that wee were Obliged once more to draw our pieces back by hand.

Soon after the Enemy made a General attack on the advanced part of our Army in which we were Driven back to our Lines with the Loss of our field Artillery and a Number of our best Troups — The seven succeeding Days our day was Constant and very taxing being obbliged to stand Great parts of the time in the water up to our middle and being R__ arms Night and Day, until wee Retreated from the Island which Happily Effected with but little Loss although the Enemy pressed our flank very hard and fired on the Boats from the land[Shore?] — I being overcome with fatigue and wanting [___?] set myself down by the side of a Stoop near the [Hy?] Market and fell a Sleep in the afternoon when I awoke I found myself at least Two Rod from the place where I sat down not discovering when I was Removed — Some Days after this our Regiment was all placed on Guard at the Turtle Bay and the West of it. wee took over posts about [__?] oClock at Night we Discovered four of five of the Enemys Ships under way Coming up the River — they passed us and Came to Anchor in the Bay — at Break of Day on this morning the 15th Septr. we were ordered into a Small [camp?] opposite the above Ships within half a shot of Two of them — we Got possession of our ground Just before Sunrise and Could with truth that a worse place was never occupied by any army — The Ditch was so narrow that Two Could not lay a breast in it nor Could we Cover ourselves from the Enemies Musketry when we lay flat on the Ground in the Bottom of our entrenchment (as it was termed) Consequently lost a number of men during the Time of the armies Landing which Commenced about 10 oClock in the Morning and was Completed about 1 oClock PM — during all which time most Tremendous fire was kept up by all the Ships five in Number — Though fortunately for us their Cannon Shot were all Directed over us and we were Annoyed only with Small arms and [Siege cannon?] which however killed and wounded a Great Number of our men — about half an hour after they had Landed these Last Division the Shipping Ceased firing upon ___ which all our Troops who were able Left the [field?] and Marched up the Hill in the utmost Confusion and Disorder — the men being almost famished with hunger and thirst were more Desirous Allaying it than of preparing to Defend themselves against the Enemy they new was to their Rear — Consequently as Soone as we had Shed the Level Ground on the top of the hill and all trying to get water from a Neighbouring [spring] The Hessian Grenadiers who had been Concealed in a thick wood adjoining the orchard in which we were began the attack and in about fifteen minutes the whole Regiment were Cut to pieces and made prisoners — Except a few Cowardly Souls who quit their Ground the first onset and with the Brigadier General and Maijor Made their Escape. The Generals name was Wadsworth, from Durham in Conn. and the Majors name was Mott, from Plainfield in the Same State — and Two Greater Poltroons never had Commissions —

After the Enemy were done killing those who they thought Refractory ___ on towards the City with their prisoners I was one — we were Extremely Ill used not allowed Either victuals or Drink — at Night they [we] were shut up in Bridewell and a guard of Hessians placed on the outside of [us] Myself and Eleven others watching an opportunity when the Guard were Carousing and then made our Escape over the fence & along the Bank of the North [Hudson] River as far as Greenwich in hopes of Geting a boat in the chance might Cross the River — The whole of us Strangers to the way to Kings Bridge — however Disappointed, there being none to be found We then held a Consultation where ___ and finally a Large Majority agreed to go and give themselves up — But myself and ___lin Wood. Segt Major of the Regiment bound on attempting an Escape by way of the River

wee took Affectionate Leave of our fellow Prisoners who accompanied us to waters Edge and saw us set of on Each of us a board — numbers of which lay near the River — about five and a half hours Excertion we had the Good fortune to Reach the Jersey shore a village Called Communpau below New York but at the time of our Landing I was such Exhausted that I could not Stand & if it had not been for the attention of my Comrade who was a stout and hearty man — I could never have gone — by his assistance I got to a house near the waters Edge where by being Dried by the fire and having my Body and Limbs Rubbed I Recovered Strength Sufficient to set of from thence a Little before day Light — about 10 oClock in the Morning wee arrived at the English Neighbourhood where wee got Refreshments and found many Sick belonging to the Army in the Afternoon wee Crossed the River at Fort Washington and Joined the Army again where I continued through all the Fatigues and hardships until after the Hessians were taken after Trenton with no other Clothing but what I had on when I Crossed the — I[t] consisted of a shirt ___ overalls no [H__d?] vest & Handkerchief and pair of old Linin Stockings —

General Washington Discharged us with his thanks after taking the Hessians at Trenton and I arrived in Connecticut on the 7th day of February — from the 15th of September my shirt had never been washed without being put on again wet or I had Remained Naked until it was Dry and the Greater part of the time I was Tormented with Lice and the Itch — after I got home my Master Received my wages and I Continued to work for him until April at which time I was twenty one years of age — I then worked two months with Wm[Mr]? Wells Recd my wages and went to Colchester where I informed my Father my Inclination to go to Sea. — he appeared to be mortified at my Resolution but to app Demonstrate that he wished my Success he enjoined my postponing the measure until he could provid me with Necessaries and engage a birth aboard of some vessel commanded by a man of good Character. he accordingly went to New London and acquired the Steward place for me on Board the [in__ious?] ___water Commanded by capt. George Allen of [Long] Island.

I embarked on board and engaged for a [shift?] of 6 months — we had not been long out of ___ until I had occasion to Suspect our Commander was not a man of Courage. after the Novelty of the comissines I was engaged in had Subsided and I began to reflect on my employment (being only a hired J/Robber and associated with some of the infamous Characters on earth our crew of 80 consisting of some of the most abandoned Rascals of all Nations) I grew heartily Sick of my Situation Upon our falling in with the French Fleet under Command of Count De Estang — I obtained my exchange of the Captain and accompanied the French Fleet into the Harbour of New Port where I continued until the Retreat and Disaster that befell the Fleet in the Storm off — the Coast — after arriving in Boston with the ships dism[__] and Shattered I returned to my Father mon[__] and Ashamed of the employment I had been engaged in and Sincerely hope non of my posterity will ever engage in Robing and Plundering their fellow Creatures on account of Its being sanctioned by Law or custom. it is in my opinion both wicked and Base — —

After Residing at Fathers about two weeks I was employed by Henry Champion in the purchasing Commisary department and being ordered to Camp to buy Beef Cattle and deliver to the Army — I contacted an acquaintance with a Number of Respectable Military Characters — Being Stationed in the vicinity of Westchester in the winter of 1778—9 I initiated an acquaintance with Jerusha Purdy. I married the October following. The enemy that Summer having Ravaged almost the whole Country. I Removed her to my Father in Connecticut where I left her and Returned to Camp —

The winter following winter. Stationed at Fishkill. appointed Superintendent of Live Stock for the whole army at which station I continued til the purchasing Commissary department was abolished in the year 1782 — I then Retired to [Conn/Courtlandt?] Resided with my wife in the house with her Brother. I being unqualified in some degree to Laibour by habits imbibed in the Army concluded to commence trades or Merchant and began to traffick in such Line as my Finances would enable which to be Sure was not large, having very little property at my Command, my accounts being unsetled and the Greatest part of the property bequeathed to my wife being destroyed by the enemy and sunk in paper money. I however made Shift to support myself and her with out geting into debt — until the year 1784 at which time my accounts were setled and I had the pleasure to produce sufficient vouchers for all the publick property that was ever Committed to my Care and Recid a Certificate from the Commissioner for Setling the public accounts certifying that there was due to me 3795 dollars and 55-90ths of a Dollar — for which <sum> I was Intitled to a Interest at the rate of 6 pr Cent pr annum — This was the amount of all my property and was hardly earned[carried?] by faithful services performed for my Country — I contemplated having Justice done me by my Country and ventured to embark in trade on a much Larger scale than I had hitherto done —(this proved my Ruin—as to property) I entered into Partnership with Alvan… [This is the final page of the existing Memoir.]

Katherine Adelia Foote's transcription of her great grandfather's, "Judge Foote's," Memorandum Book:

  • I much regret to say that I have nothing from this one of April 8, 1809, until the one following from Governor Clinton, March 4,1818. Although differing in politics, Dewitt Clinton, at this time Governor of New York, and Ebenezer were very good friends, as see the following extract from one of the many small memorandum books kept by Judge Foote, all now lost, except one to which I am denied access. But this one leaf I have is interesting in connection with Governor Clinton's letter, as it was he who made one of the appointments. [kaf;192]

April 28th, 1828

I was appointed first judge of Delaware county for the third time. Under my first appointment I served until I was sixty years of age—a term beyond which I could not constitutionally hold the office. I was then appointed judge, and served in that capacity until the new constitution was adopted, when I was again appointed as above stated; and what is rather unusual, my three last appointments have been made by men of different political sentiments from myself.

The Manuscript

The memoirs are either a first draft, or a finished copy, of Ebenezer's narrative to be used in either his, or his widow's, pension application for his service in the United States Revolutionary War. The memoir is fragmentary, ending with a description of his business partnership with relative of his wife, and before his removal to Delhi, New York. Perhaps he intended this to be only of use for the United States Pension Office. Ebenezer's first grandchild was born in late 1809 and his son was elected 
to the US Congress in 1821. If this history was written during this period, it may be that Ebenezer wanted his family, and posterity, to realize his bravery and his sacrifice, as the republic grew, expanding to the West, and became more technologically and politically relevant on the world stage.

This memoir is a direct transcript of a manuscript in the collections of the 
Detroit Public Library, 
Detroit Michigan. There is much clearer, handwritten copy on file with the Federal Archives, formerly the Pension Department, submitted as evidence for the pension payments given to Matilda Rosecranz Foote. There is also another copy, currently unknown location, which in the 1960s was in the hands of the Johnson family, residents on the Foote homestead, Arbor Hill before the 1960s purchase of the house by the Dent family. I felt that, for historical accuracy, my transcription should adhere as much as possible to the spelling and capitalization of the original. Unrecognizable 
or uncertain words are marked with 
square brackets [].

Transcribed by David Fairbanks Ford, White River Junction, Vermont.

Notes on the Text:

  • “…Durham?” There is no record of the Foote Family emigrating from Durham, England, however the ancestors of Daniel and Nathaniel are recorded in Shalford, County of Essex, located near Colchester England. Colchester, Connecticut, home of the Footes was, I surmise, named for the same town in England.
  • “Bridewell Prison” was in what is now City Hall Park. It was designed by Theophilus Hardenbrook in 1775. The jail, poorhouse and another building known as the new Bridewell were used by the British to house American prisoners of war. Construction was interrupted by the Declaration of Independence. The Bridewell, named for a London jail, was the most deadly of the prisons. It had no windows, only bars. The winter winds took the lives of hundreds of ill-fed patriots. There were other prisons in New York. Churches were used along with a sugar warehouse south of what is now Liberty Street. Many thousands died in prison ships in the Harbor. William Cunningham was the provost marshal of the British jails. It was he who hung Nathan Hale. Cunningham is reported to have made a deathbed confession to starving 2,000 prisoners in the city as he sold their allotted rations for personal profit. He confessed to executing outright 275 American prisoners and “other obnoxious persons.” Women who visited the jails to speak to their husbands through the windows were beaten with canes and ramrods.
  • “About five and a half hours Excertion we had the Good fortune to Reach the Jersey shore a village Called Communpau below New York.” Communipaw is an unincorporated community and neighborhood located within Jersey City in Hudson County, New Jersey, United States. It is located west of Liberty State Park and east of Bergen Hill, and the site of one of the earliest European settlements in North America.
  • “the French Fleet under Command of Count De Estang” Jean Baptiste Charles Henri Hector, comte d'Estaing (24 November 1729 – 28 April 1794) was a French general and admiral. He began his service as a soldier in the War of the Austrian Succession, briefly spending time as a prisoner of war of the British during the Seven Years’ War. Naval exploits during the latter war prompted him to change branches of service, and he transferred to the French Navy.
Following France’s entry into the American War of Independence in 1778, he led a fleet to aid the American rebels. He participated in a failed Franco-American siege of Newport, Rhode Island in 1778 and the equally unsuccessful 1779 Siege of Savannah before returning to France in 1780. His difficulties working with American counterparts are cited among the reasons these operations failed.
Although he sympathized with revolutionaries during the French Revolution, he held a personal loyalty to the French royal family. Because of this he came under suspicion, and was executed by guillotine in the Reign of Terror.
Ebenezer Foote’s wife Jerusha Purdy (1754–1818), and her brother Alvan (1754–1830, see below), were children of Abraham Purdy and Phebe Strang (L’Strang, d’Strang) possibly some relationship here?
  • “I was employed by Henry Champion in the purchasing Commisary department” Henry Champion III was born in Westchester, Connecticut, at his family's magnificent Federal style house which is placed on the National Register of Historic Places. He was the eldest of 7 children born to Col. Champion. His brother General Epaphroditus Champion was born in 1756 and also became a staunch Federalist. July 15, 1779, Captain Champion was appointed Acting Major of the First Battalion Light Brigade. The Light Brigade corps was composed of men picked from all regiments and under direct command of General Washington. Champion resigned his commission in the 1st Connecticut Regiment on May 1, 1781 when he was appointed commissary general of the Eastern Department.
He served until the close of the Revolutionary War. He was an original member of the Connecticut Society of the Cincinnati.
  • Jerusha Purdy, born (prob.) Rye, New York, Westchester county, New York, 6 December, 1754, daughter of Abraham Purdy and Phebe Strang. She married Ebenezer Foote (at Yorktown, New York) 10 October, 1779. She died November, 1818, probably at Delhi, New York and is buried in the Arbor Hill cemetery.
  • “I entered into partnership with Alvan Purdy,” son of Abraham Purdy and Phebe Strang, Born Jan. 11, 1757; died Yorktown, N.Y., July 16, 1830; married Lydia Hunt, who died Jan. 27, 1842, aged 83 years 3 months and 7 days. He was Lieutenant in Revolutionary War under Col. Samuel Drake, Westchester County Militia (The Strang Genealogy. Josephine C. Frost, Brooklyn, 1915, p. 66)

Learn more about colonial U.S. currency here: