Vernon & District Family History Society

SHARING GENEALOGY KNOWLEDGE SINCE 1982

GENEROUS ENEMIES: PATRIOTS AND LOYALISTS IN REVOLUTIONARY NEW YORK

Written by Linda Pomeroy

First let me start my story with a direction quotation taken from a book published in 2004 which I cite at the end of the quotation:

“Such family devotion, manifested in an exchange of letters, prevailed in high profile military clans as well. Daughters of a British Officer in Canada, Elizabeth and Ann Philipps married men in the 1750s who would eventually fight on opposite sides during the Revolution. Ann married Robert Fenwick, while Elizabeth married Horatio Gates, both careerists in the British army. Elizabeth and Ann travelled with their husbands and maintained a loving correspondence that no revolution could stop. The Fenwicks, who stayed in the British army, found themselves besieged in Boston in 1775, while Horatio Gates came out of retirement in the same year to become an Adjutant General in the Continental army. With both women on the move in the middle of a theater of war, they did not know where to write and so their correspondence did not resume until 1778, when Elizabeth managed to get a letter to her sister in occupied New York. Ann was jubilant to receive such an ‘affectionate remembrance’. She brought her sister up to date on her husband’s illness, the health of her six sons, and her string of tragic pregnancies.

After her husband’s death and an unpleasant run-in with the city’s housing office, Ann dismantled her Broadway household to move her seven children (she finally gave birth to a girl) to England, ‘there to rest the remainder of my unhappy days’, she wrote. Although sorely tried by the war’s circumstances, Ann betrayed no hint that she bore a grudge against those on the other side of the military lines, no intimation that she was jealous of her solidly settled and well-off sister, no hatred of her brother-in-law who proved to be the nemesis of the British army in the New York military theater. On the contrary, Ann poured out her affection for her sister and her family, even to the point of asking to be remembered to ‘General Gates’. Elizabeth Gates, for her part, offered to take one of Ann’s sons (Elizabeth and Horatio’s godson) into her own household. For all the hardships that Ann Fenwick suffered during the war, she did not lack the emotional sustenance provided by a sister and friend who not only empathized with her illnesses and losses, but also offered to help in more concrete ways. Ann squared the war and her relationship with her sister in a 1778 letter when she wrote, ‘In my breast and I most sincerely believe in yours, there has not been the smallest interruption (of friendship and affection) and tho Accidents, Fate and Opinions may have thrown us into different Walks, yet nothing could shake or diminish our loves and esteems.’ For Ann Fenwick, there was a realm of ‘loves and esteems’ alongside the jarring world of ‘Accidents and Opinions’. The sisters’ discreet correspondence did not cause a ripple in the harder, public, place where their husbands had invested themselves. They were thus able to maintain their positions in the wider society while sustaining one another in their roles as loving sisters.

While it is readily acknowledged that civil wars can produce fractured families, it is less understood that intense conflict and suffering can make individuals resort more than ever to the intimate bonds forged through a lifetime. Adversity can rearrange one’s perspective so that what one once thought to be of primary importance, such as issues like British taxation, takes second place to family welfare. Folded pieces of paper artfully hidden in a bundle or a piece of clothing often overcame the formidable obstacles thrown up by the war.”

The above came directly from a Book entitled “Generous Enemies: Patriots and Loyalists in Revolutionary New York” written by Judith L. Van Buskirk, published by Philadelphia (Pa.): University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004, pages 48, 49 and 50. Later in the book, on page 205, under Notes to Pages 49-50, the following appears concerning letters written:

“5. Ann Fenwick to Elizabeth Gates, December 3, 1778; November 13, 1779; December 3, 1779; May 2, 1780; Horatio Gates Papers, reels 8, 11, NYHS. The Philipps sisters’ predicament also highlights the difficult y of ascertaining women’s political allegiance. Some women were forced to join their husbands who fled to the other side.”

Now I’ll take you on to my connection with these two women. Ann Philipps, who married Robert Fenwick, is my 5th great grandmother and her sister Elizabeth, married to General Horatio Gates, is my 6th great aunt. They were the daughters of Major Erasmus James Philipps, my 6th great grandfather, born in London, 1705, and baptized at St. Martin’s in the Fields May 3, 1705, and his wife, Ann Dyson, born approximately 1710, the eldest daughter of John Dyson, Lieutenant of Artillery and Storekeeper at Annapolis Royal, and his wife, Alice. Major Philipps had a lengthy history in Nova Scotia and first appeared there in 1726 in a military capacity, but his career soon took on a more political lean with various postings, including being appointed Advocate for the Vice Admiralty Court in Nova Scotia, a position he held for twenty years. In 1730, he was appointed to the Nova Scotia Council as well as attaining the rank of Major. While on a Commission representing Nova Scotia relating to a border dispute between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, he was initiated into the Masonic Lodge in Boston in 1737. He then brought the movement into Canada where he became the Grand Master and founder of the first Lodge in Canada, located at Annapolis Royal in 1738. During the years he resided in Nova Scotia, he served in various capacities during the British – French - Indian wars which began in 1744, and was involved in the administration of civil affairs during the Acadian conflict. When Halifax was established and Edward Cornwallis appointed Governor in 1749, a new Council was established and Philipps became a member of that new Council, serving in several different areas. In 1759 he was elected to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly and appointed Commander of the forces at Annapolis; however, his career was cut short when he died from apoplexy (cerebral stroke) in September of 1760.

Ann Philipps, his daughter, was born in 1740 perhaps in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, and lived a short, difficult life, dying in Woolwich, England in 1785, at the age of 45. In 1764 in Annapolis Royal, she married Robert Fenwick, born in London, England in 1740, the son of John Fenwick and Elizabeth Howard. Their first son Lieutenant Robert George Fenwick was born in Annapolis Royal and died in Ireland at the age of 18 while with the 16th Regiment of Foot. The second son, William Fenwick, was a Colonel in the Royal Engineers and lived to the relatively old age (for Military) of 50 and was supposedly the Military Secretary to HRH, the Duke of Kent, dying in Paris in 1817. The next child, my 4th great grandfather, Thomas Howard Fenwick, a Captain with the Royal Horse Artillery, was born in Plumstead, England in 1768 and died in Woolwich, England in 1797, at the very young age of 29. In 1769, because Robert Fenwick had been appointed Governor of Fort Needham in Barbadoes, his next two sons were born there in 1769 and 1771. The first one, Benjamin, was a Major with the Royal Artillery and died at the age of 43 in Halifax in 1812. The next son, John Philipps Fenwick, was a midshipman in the Royal Navy and was wrecked on board the HMS Pandora, which is best known as the ship sent in 1790 by the First Lord of the Admiralty, John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, to search for the Bounty Mutineers. This John Pitt, the son of William Pitt the Elder, Prime Minister of Great Britain, is my 3rd cousin 6x removed, an extremely distant relative! The Pandora managed to capture 14 of the mutineers but was wrecked on April 28, 1791 on the Great Barrier Reef on the return voyage. John managed to survive the shipwreck but died at sea on January 17, 1792 while enroute from Timur to Cape of Good Hope on his way back to England. He was only 21 when he perished. The next son, Stevenson, born in Boston in 1773, died in Woolwich, England at the age of 14, and two more sons, one born in Boston and the other in New York in 1775 and 1777, died in infancy. The last child, Ann, the only daughter, was born in New York in April 1779, just a month before her father Robert Fenwick died at New York on May 23, 1779, age 38. She passed away in 1856 at Woolwich, England, at the ripe old age of 77. As you can easily discern, the above records indicate the severity of life which was relatively common amongst military families in the 1700s. It’s hardly a wonder that poor Ann Philipps Fenwick only survived to age 45, considering the extreme conditions under which she and her family lived. We can only imagine the difficulties the recently-widowed mother and her seven young children encountered in making their way from New York back to England in a time of intense military and political instability.