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The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies

Female Ancestors
Letter from Catharine Van Cortland, 1776

[Letter from Catharine VAN CORTLAND to Philip VAN CORTLAND of the New Jersey Volunteers, dated Hanover, New Jersey, December 15, 1776.]


My dearest love,

You had not left us ten minutes last Sunday when a party of Light Horsemen, headed by Joseph Morris, came to our once peaceful mansion all armed, who said they had positive orders to take you, my dear Philly, prisoner to Easton, and your favorite horse Sampson to be carried to Morristown for the use of General Lee from whom these cruel mandates were issued.

What were my emotions on seeing these wretches alight and without ceremony enter the doors you can only conceive, you who know their base characters and how their present errand must be received by your beloved family.

When these bloody minded men came into the dining room, our little flock gathered around me and with anxious eyes watched my looks, whilst I was answering questions respecting your eluding their search.

One of them (flourishing his sword) swore bitterly that, if you was to be found alive on earth, he would take you or have your heart's blood.

This was too much. They fled into their nursery, bursting into tears; screams out, 'Oh my dear Pappa, they will kill him, they will kill him.'

One of the inhuman men seemed touched, and endeavoured an excuse by saying they were sent by their General and therefore were obliged to do their duty, even though against a person they formerly much esteemed, but had been represented to General Lee as one too dangerous to be permitted to stay in the country.

Finding you was certainly gone and no prospect of obtaining from me your intended route or any intimation of your return, they went off, and left me in a situation (from my great exertions) scarce to be described.

My first care was the nursery to comfort those innocent pledges of our mutual love. They would scarcely hear me; their sobbing and crying had almost overcome them; and they would not be persuaded from a belief that the wretches were gone to murder their dear Pappa.

The next day another party of horsemen came down; who brought with them an oath for you to subscribe, which General Lee said 'he had drawn up himself in the most tender terms, as he had formerly received many civilities from your family and respected your character.'

By the contents you may judge my answer, which was, that it was impossible for me to tell where you was gone. That I was confident you would never subscribe to such conditions, and that I would rather endure every inconvenience from a separation than see you return subject to their power.

This explanation seemed to chagrin them, and they left me rather abruptly.

The house is surrounded by eighteen or twenty armed men every night in expectation of intercepting you, as they observed that you was too much attached to your family to be long absent.

Our dear children are again taken from school in consequence of the cruel insults they daily receive for the principles of their parents.

I now write in fear and trembling and venture this by an honest Dutch farmer who says he will deliver it into your hands.



Vernon-Jackson, H. O. H., "A Loyalist's Wife: Letters of Mrs. Philip Van Cortlandt December 1776 to February 1777", History Today Magazine, Volume XIV, no. 8, Pages 574-580.

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