St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Homeland Security 1777 Style

Wednesday morning has arrived after a restless sleep last night.  I am almost speechless as I try to understand the past.  Almost a wordless Wednesday, but not quite.

Imagine the scene, if you will, of the events following our beloved country's 1776 Declaration of Independence from the super power across the pond.  The early events in the blossoming war were not very successful for the Americans.  In fact, in the fall of 1776, the British officers Richard Howe and William Howe issued a proclamation from New York City offering a pardon for treasonable acts to anyone who would take an oath of allegiance to the King.

The new states then issued a mandatory oath of allegiance to the new and present government in the spring and early summer of 1777.  In looking at several states, it seems that all white men had to sign the oath of allegiance or be subject to imprisonment or forfeiture of their property or even being exspelled from the area of their residence.  All allegiance to George the Third, King of Great Britain, had to be renounced.  All those suspected of treason or conspiracies were to be made known to the government, as declared by Congress.

Until last night, it had not dawned on me that the oath was a forced oath of allegiance to the Americans.  Gee, I wonder how that went over.  Can you imagine the revolt today if we had to go to court and sign an oath of allegiance to a new government?  Yikes.


Last night's research sent me to the Minutes of the Council of Safety of the state of New Jersey 1777-1778. (Many thanks to the kind volunteer who found the book for me online.)  In reading many of the entries, I was stunned to see how people turned in their neighbors for being suspicious, or dangerous to the present government, or how Quakers were brought in to testify. 

Here is a portion of one man's plight which I thought interesting.  Was he one of the men who had accepted Howe's pardon?

Daniel Hendrickson, who was summoned to appear as a Person suspected of being disaffected and dangerous to the present Government, did accordingly attend, and on Examination acknowledged that he had recd a Protection from the Enemy, which he refused to give up when demanded by the Board....

He refused to take the Oath of Allegiance but was dismissed on account of his good behavior as he prepared for his next appearance before the next Court.  I didn't follow up on this gentleman, so I am unaware if he changed his mind or went to prison for supporting the Crown.

And another one which caught my eye.

The petition of Benjamin Morgan, now in confinement at Morristown, was read, setting forth, That he is desirous to take the Oaths of Abjuration & Allegiance agreeably to Law, and is willing to be circumscribed in his Boundaries & laid under such Penalties as the Board may think necessary; and praying that he may be permitted to return home.

The one I for whom I was searching was found to have appeared July 8, 1777, on a demand of the Council with the charge of being "suspected."  William Honeywell appeared and requested time to think about it.  The Council agreed.  Honeywell returned the next morning and signed the Oath of Allegiance to New Jersey and the United States.  That afternoon, his brother, John Honeywell also appeared and signed the oath.

What must these men have thought?  Their family had been in the colonies since the early 1600s and had never even been to England.  They were born under the Crown, but lived as Americans for generations.  Did they wonder if the Americans would, or could, win the battle against the Crown?  Did they really care?  Were their daily lives affected by all the troops around?  I don't know the answer, but I do know that two of William's children were contacted by the militia to serve.  One of the sons served in place of the other, so only one of his sons has a revolutionary war pension.  So, William did support the American cause.

Even though I have known of the Oaths of Allegiance for many years, it never dawned on me that it was a forced oath of allegiance.  If a man didn't sign it, he stood to lose everything.  Of course, if the British had won the war, he would have most likely lost everything. 

Ahhh, genealogy.  William's declaration of wanting to think about signing the oath reminds me of that immortal classic song by Meatloaf.  I've been humming, "Do you love me?  Will you love me forever?....Let me think on it, baby baby. Let me think on it.  I'll give you an answer in the morning."
And just like the song, grandpa William Honeywell said yes.

©2013 AS Eldredge

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