Thursday, January 27, 2011

For All Nails #307: In the Country of the Bland

Norfolk, Virginia, S.C., CNA
11 May 1784

The sights, sounds, and smells of a bustling port town were as familiar to Alexander Hamilton as his own name, and were a welcome change of pace after two years spent struggling to build a new settlement on the sun-drenched alien plains of Spanish Tejas. It had been four years since Hamilton had left Norfolk with Nathanael Greene's party of exiles. Back then, the town was still recovering from the fires that had destroyed it in 1776. Now, the newly-established capital of the newly-established Southern Confederation had fully recovered from the former devastation. Houses of wood and brick lined the streets, which were filled with waggons, coaches, riders, and foot traffic.

Hamilton had been two weeks at sea, and was eager to shake off the dust of his travels. Unfortunately, he was learning that public accommodations were hard to come by in Norfolk. The town was full of transients such as himself, all competing for the same limited supply of rooms. Following a disappointing conversation with the owner of the Boar's Head tavern on Duke Street, Hamilton had found a seat in the common room and ordered a tankard of ale. If he couldn't find anywhere to stay, he would have to return to his cabin aboard the ship, a prospect he found unpleasant.

The last thing Hamilton expected to hear was the sound of a familiar voice, but there was no mistaking that reedy tenor saying, " . . . sooner trust one of my coon hounds to govern this colony than that simpleton!" As though to remove all doubt, the speaker followed his words with a phlegmy cough that Hamilton could still vividly recall from his time on General Washington's staff.

Hamilton turned to see the source of the scornful words, and found himself looking at his former comrade-in-arms, Colonel Theodorick Bland the Younger of the First Virginia Cavalry Regiment. Bland was standing in the doorway of the common room, speaking with a second man Hamilton didn't recognize, and holding the all-too-familiar handkerchief to his mouth.

Hamilton rose from his seat, and the movement attracted Bland's attention. There was no mistaking the shock of recognition on Bland's features. A moment passed, then Bland motioned for Hamilton to join him and the other man.

"You'll forgive me if I interrupt our conversation," Bland said to the other man, "but it isn't often one sees a ghost in the common room of the Boar's Head. Mr. Wright, please allow me to introduce Mr. Alexander Hamilton of the State of Jefferson. Mr. Hamilton, this is Mr. James Wright, my fellow Royal Governor for the Province of Georgia."

Hamilton bowed to the other man, saying, "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Wright. The name is of course a familiar one."

"Likewise, Mr. Hamilton," Wright replied, returning the bow. He turned back to Bland and said, "As much as I would enjoy participating in a meeting of old friends, I fear my business takes me elsewhere. Mr. Hamilton, a pleasure. Mr. Bland, I shall save you a seat at the King George." So saying, Wright bowed towards the two men and left the Boar's Head.

"Mr. Hamilton," Bland said, "I would very much esteem it if you would join me for a time in my room."

"Mr. Bland, I would not dream of refusing."

Bland led Hamilton from the common room to a private room in the rear of the Boar's Head. The two men settled at a table there, and after another bout of coughing, Bland said, "You will forgive me, sir, if I seek to satisfy my curiosity. How is it that you find yourself back in the colonies? I was under the impression that when you and your fellows departed these shores, you were going for good and all."

"I have been in correspondence with Mr. Loudon in New-York," Hamilton answered. "He seems to feel that the reading public here in the colonies would be interested to hear the thoughts of an exiled Patriot on the changes that have taken place since my departure. The mails between Jefferson City and New-York being uncertain at best, I felt it would be best to bring Mr. Loudon the manuscript in person. Captain Reynolds has put in here in Norfolk for several days while he sees to business of his own, and so I decided to procure a room for the balance of my stay. I fear my efforts in that direction have been unproductive."

"You pique my curiosity, sir," said Bland. "I for one would indeed be interested to hear your thoughts. You may take this as proof of the soundness of Mr. Loudon's business acumen."

"Very well, Mr. Bland. If I were to sum up my thoughts in a single word, that word would be 'regret'. Had I thought it possible to stay, I would have done so. Sadly, sentiment was running high against those of us who sought independence from the British Crown, and so I felt it best to depart."

"Nonsense, sir!" Bland insisted, followed by a fit of coughing. "If you wished to remain, there was no impediment to your doing so. After all, I was as much a Patriot as you, and yet now I find myself entrusted with the rule of the Province of Virginia."

"You, sir, are a respected member of a long and illustrious line of gentlemen of Virginia," Hamilton pointed out. "You had a place in society waiting for you when you retired from the Continental Army." Hamilton remembered that Bland's health had always been poor, and had finally led him to resign his command of the First Virginia Cavalry a month after the Battle of Germantown.

"I, on the other hand," he continued, "am naught but a fatherless emigrant. I had no patron or place to safeguard me from the opprobrium of the triumphant Loyalists. I shall not go into my experiences in New-York after the end of the Rebellion, other than to say that they gave me ample proof that I would be better off elsewhere. And so, when I heard of General Greene's proposed expedition to New Spain, I determined to join him.

"But now that you have my tale, sir," Hamilton concluded, "I must have yours. How does a former rebel cavalry commander find himself chosen to be Royal Governor of Virginia?"

Bland paused a moment to collect his thoughts, then said, "Sir, I am certain you recall the temper of the times after the loss of Philadelphia and Albany."

"I do, sir," said Hamilton, and so he did. After that double disaster, the heart seemed to go out of the Patriot cause. Men such as Dickinson, who had always questioned the wisdom of declaring independence, had gained popular support, and sentiment grew for a return to British rule.

Nodding, Bland continued. "The House of Delegates had turned against independence, and found itself at odds with Governor Henry, who continued to support it. When Henry attempted to dissolve the House and rule by decree, it became necessary to remove him from office. A number of men from the First Cavalry were in Williamsburg at the time, and they sought me out for the purpose. I agreed, and so Henry was placed under arrest and the House chose Mr. Hubard in his place. When Sir Henry Clinton was placed in command of the southern colonies, he restored Lord Dunmore to his place. That proved an unfortunate choice, for Dunmore seemed to think himself still living in the time before the Rebellion, and came near to setting it off again with his intemperate speech and actions before Sir Henry relieved him."

" 'Dunmore should have done less.' " Hamilton quoted the familiar Virginian aphorism.

"As you say, sir," said Bland with a chuckle that became another cough. "By that time I was much in Sir Henry's confidence, and he chose to make me acting governor. Lord North saw fit to confirm the appointment, and so I remain."

"In that case," observed Hamilton, "I would expect to find you in Williamsburg, rather than Norfolk."

Bland shook his head sadly. "Mr. Hamilton, nothing would please me more than to remain in Williamsburg and deal with the business of Virginia. Unfortunately, Lord North's judgment in filling the offices of state here in America remains erratic."

"Then the word that has reached us in Jefferson City is true?" said Hamilton. "Mr. Connolly has been named Governor-General of your new confederation?"

"You have heard correctly, sir," said Bland. "He has indeed."

When he had first heard the news, it had taken some time for Hamilton to place the name. Finally, he had recalled Connolly, a physician and soldier-of-fortune from Pennsylvania. After the battles of Lexington and Concord had set off the Rebellion, Connolly, then a resident of Fort Pitt, had approached Lord Dunmore with a scheme to travel to Fort Detroit and there recruit a force of Loyalists and Indians. Connolly would then lead this force, which he meant to call the Loyal Foresters, to Fort Pitt to recruit more Loyalists, and finally to Virginia, to combine there with a second force called the Ethiopian Regiment that Dunmore had recruited from the escaped slaves of Patriots. Dunmore meant to use this mixed force of Loyalists, Indians, and freed slaves to put down the Rebellion in Virginia.

Even nine years later, Hamilton was still appalled at the folly of the idea. Burgoyne had recruited Indian auxiliaries for his invasion of New York, and it had come near to ruining his plans. Indians were uncertain allies at best, and they often failed to discriminate between Loyalist and Patriot settlers, one white scalp being as good as another to them. In any case, word of Connolly's business had gotten to General Washington, who alerted the Committee of Safety in Maryland. Connolly had been captured in Hagerstown in November 1775 with several incriminating documents in his possession, and had spent the remainder of the Rebellion in gaol.

"Whatever could have possessed Lord North to make such an appointment?" Hamilton wondered.

"This was more of Lord Dunmore's work, you may depend upon it, sir," said Bland. "Connolly was Dunmore's creature. And so you find me in Norfolk as Virginia's representative on the General Council. Mr. Wright and myself and the others see to it that Connolly has no opportunity to get into mischief. He still hopes to make himself master of the Southern Confederation, but I mean to break him of that ambition."

"It seems to me," Hamilton observed, "that you risk your own position. What is to keep Connolly from complaining about you to his friends in London and having you replaced with a more biddable man? You serve at the King's pleasure, after all, just as he does."

"Oh, complain he does, I assure you of that," said Bland, with another chuckle that devolved into a fit of coughing. "But for every report Lord Germain receives from Connolly denouncing me as an obstreperous villain, he receives another from Sir John praising me to the skies." It took a moment for Hamilton to realize that Sir John was the Viceroy, Sir John Dickinson.

Bland continued, "Best appointment Lord North could have made. The only man north of the Maryland border who isn't a damned scoundrel."

Curious, Hamilton said, "If you'll pardon the observation, sir, I don't recall you being so set against the northern colonies during the Rebellion."

"And who else was it but the men of the north who removed General Washington from command of the army?" Bland demanded. "Especially that rascal Rush. The general was our only hope of victory, and the fools cast him aside!"

Hamilton's own recollection of events was that it had been General Charles Lee, the Englishman-turned-Virginian, who had led the effort to remove Washington from command of the Continental Army, but he let Bland's accusation stand. Instead, he said, "And how is the general, these days?"

Bland's temper instantly subsided, replaced by sadness. "As well as can be expected, I suppose. I see to it that he does not suffer unduly. He lives the life of a country gentleman, the life he has always sought, at Mount Vernon, with Lady Washington beside him. He may correspond with whom he will, and may see whom he will. He has all that any man might wish."

"Except his liberty," said Hamilton.

With a sigh, Bland agreed, "Except his liberty." His expression became dour again as he added, "Connolly feels that I am too lenient with the general. This, too, he complains about to Lord Germain. Fortunately, Sir John feels as I do, and so Connolly's complaints fall upon deaf ears."

Hamilton raised his tankard in salute, and Bland returned the gesture.

"I must say, Mr. Hamilton, that I much admire what you and General Greene and the others have done," said Bland. "And better by far to seek out new lands to inhabit than to continue the fight as that lunatic Marion has done." Francis Marion, Hamilton knew, was a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army who had refused to lay down his arms following the armistice of June 1778. Instead, he had retreated into the Carolina and Virginia back-country and attracted a band of like-minded men who declared themselves to be the "provisional government of the United States of America." Marion, who had raised himself to the rank of general, used the tactics he had learned in the Cherokee War in raids against "Tory" targets, and had so far managed to elude or defeat every army Bland had sent against him.

"I can assure you, sir," said Hamilton, "that the effort is much more admirable from a distance than it is in person. The land is harsh, and the Indians in that country are as fierce as any you will find here in the colonies. There is much to be done, but we are so few that it is all we can do to maintain ourselves."

"I think I know where you might find more settlers for your new land," said Bland.

"And where might that be, sir?"

"Why, right here in the Southern Confederation," Bland replied. "I may tell you that Lord Germain is entirely too niggardly in opening new lands to settlement. There are thousands here who wish to settle beyond the mountains, but cannot for want of land to settle on. From what you tell me, sir, there is land in plenty to be found in Jefferson."

"Would they be willing to make the journey to Jefferson?" Hamilton wondered. "The way is long, and the destination, as I have mentioned, a harsh one."

"They would be, despite the hardships. If," and here Bland paused. "If, I say, they could be assured that they would suffer no persecution at the hands of their predecessors. Would you and your Patriots denigrate them for lacking your revolutionary zeal?"

"There you may ease your mind, sir," Hamilton responded. "General Greene is as mindful as I am of the difficulties presented by our small numbers. He would welcome with open arms any man who chose to settle in Jefferson, whether Patriot or Loyalist. In fact, I may say, sir, that I at least would be happier to have more men in our new country who were not so adamant in their disdain for the CNA. I think it would be a mistake to oppose ourselves to Great Britain, and I see no need for hostility between our two countries. It would be better, I think, if we could let the disagreements of the past stay past, and seek more amicable relations. Jefferson's destiny lies to the west, beyond the Mississippi, and it would be better to have a friendly CNA at our back."

Now Bland had a look of interest upon his features. "Are there many in Jefferson who feel as you do, Mr. Hamilton?"

"All too few, at present," Hamilton admitted. "Most feel as Jay and Gallatin do, that enmity with Britain and the CNA is inevitable, and that we ought to ally ourselves with France against you. All the more reason, to my mind, for men of a different temper to come settle in our country."

"I see," said Bland, nodding. "I am pleased to have had this chance to converse with you, Mr. Hamilton. And I think I may safely promise you that there will indeed be men of your cast of mind coming to settle in your country. A great many men."

Bland smiled, then, and added, "If you do well by them, sir, I think I can guarantee that they will do well by you in return."

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