General Court Martial of John Bayard
Proceedings of a General Court Martial held at New York, on Monday March 23d 1778, By Warrant from his Excellency the Honorable Sir William Howe Commander in Chief &c &c &c
The Court being duly Sworn.
Lieut: Col. John BAYARD, of the King’s Orange Rangers was brought before the Court, being put under arrest by order of Major General JONES, on a Report of his having wounded Lieut. BIRD of said Regt. of which wound he died.
Capt: John COFFIN of said Regt. duly Sworn, Deposeth. On the 10th of March, He had an invitation to dine with Capt: RAWTON of said Regt. in Company with Col: BAYARD, Capt: BURGESS, Mr. BIRD. That about an hour, before the Company broke up, as nigh as He can recollect, Col: BAYARD & Capt. BURGESS withdrew from the Company, does not know whether they went together, or seperately.
After the Company broke up Mr. BIRD, and the Deponent retired to the Major’s Room, where a conversation arose among the Company, about the President of the Table, does not recollect he shar’d further in the conversation than expressing his sentiments in favor of Mr. BIRDs opinion of the matter, some high words in a very short time insued between Col. BAYARD and Mr. BIRD, which words he does not recollect, but Col. BAYARD ordered Capt: BURGESS to put Mr. BIRD in arrest, On which Mr. BIRD refused delivering up his Arms to Capt: BURGESS, and told Captain BURGESS that if any one attempted to take his Arms from him he would put them out of Existence.
Col. BAYARD then ordered the Deponent to put Mr. BIRD in Arrest, or to take his arms away from him going up to Mr. BIRD, Mr. BIRD went out of the door the Deponent followed him, in some time Col. BAYARD followed after he thinks in about a minutes space; the Deponent entreated Mr. BIRD to deliver his Arms which he positively refused, keeping the Deponent at the point of his hanger and walking backwards at the same time.
Col: BAYARD was standing at some little distance from the Major’s door, the deponent watched an opportunity & caught hold of Mr. BIRD’s arm in which he held his hanger, he then told the deponent, as a particular friend Capt: COFFIN I will deliver my Arms to you provided you won’t see me injured, the deponent assured him, he wou’d not. He took hold of Mr. BIRD with his right hand and held his hanger in his left & walked with him towards Col: BAYARD.
He does not recollect he had acquainted Col. BAYARD He had put Mr. BIRD in arrest, but is inclined to think he did from the circumstance of Col: BAYARD’s ordering him, to take Mr. BIRD to his Room, when Col. BAYARD ordered the Deponent to take Mr. BIRD to his room Mr. BIRD made reply, he should take his own time for it. Col. BAYARD then said to him, if he did not immediately go, he would send a file of men to carry him, Mr. BIRD damn’d his men, swore by G–d he himself should not carry him.
The Deponent as near as he can recollect was then standing within a yard of Col. BAYARD, with Mr. BIRD upon the Deponents right, Col. BAYARD on his left. They passed Col. BAYARD some little distance when Col. BAYARD call’d Mr. BIRD a little damn'd impertinent Rascal. Mr. BIRD turning round towards Col. BAYARD, the Deponent having hold of his arm, Mr. BIRD told Col. BAYARD he thought him as great a Rascal as he was, Col. BAYARD then came up to Mr. BIRD, what Sir call me a Rascal, and gave Mr. BIRD he thinks a Slap or a blow on the Cheek.
Mr. BIRD disengaged himself from the deponent and told Col. BAYARD by G–d he would not be struck by any man, Mr. BIRD stept back, and struck Col. BAYARD on the shoulder with a Cane he had in his hand, a severe stroke, the deponent stept between them, caught hold of Mr. BIRD's right Arm, which he held the cane in, & kept Col. BAYARD off with the other which the Deponent held the hanger in, during which Col. BAYARD jerk’d the Deponent's hanger from his Side, and run Mr. BIRD thro’ the body. Mr. BIRD then said Col. BAYARD had killed him. The deponent pick’d upon his own Arms and carried Mr. BIRD into Doctor FRASERs room, and Col. BAYARD went into the Majors.
The Court adjourned to Wednesday Morning at ten o’Clock.
The Court met according to Adjournment.
John FRASER Surgeon of the said Regt. being duly Sworn deposeth that Capt. COFFIN delivered the deceased who was wounded desiring him to dress him, that he the deceased was seized with Vomiting, that he put him into bed and in about ten minutes he died.
Q. Was the wound he received the immediate cause of his death?
Mr. President and Gentlemen of the General Court Martial, If any thing could give comfort to one in my unhappy circumstances, it is the reflection on the dignity and respectable characters which compose this Court. Was the Charge against me to be proved in it’s full and heinous extent; I must be convinced of your Justice, but if circumstances produced to you may lead you to absolve me from all malignity or design, what consolation must it be to me and to my very distressed and respectable father to be acquitted by so distinguished and honorable a verdict.
The unfortunate young Gentleman, whose rashness and torturing insults made me the unhappy instrument of his death, was particularly carest and distinguished by me, which will appear in the course of evidence leading to those corroborating proofs, with the indulgence of this Court I will give my own narrative of facts, wherein it will appear, I hope to your satisfaction, that I was tortured to agony, irritated even to anguish, by menace, insults and blows. It must be submitted to your breasts what allowance is to be made for the weakness of human nature under such circumstances.
On Tuesday the tenth of March last being at dinner with Captain ROTTON and several other Gentlemen, among the rest Lieut. BIRD, who was invited at my particular request, during the evening Lieut. BIRD behaved in the most troublesome and riotous manner, which induced me to quit the room much earlier than the rest of the Company and retired to Major DeWINT’s where I was followed about an hour after by Capt: ROTTON and Capt: BURGESS, who proposed a game of picquet or Quadrill, I answered I could not play either.
Capt. COFFIN and Lieut. BIRD then came in, when Capt: ROTTON address’d himself to Lt. BIRD and told him he was much obliged to him for his good Company, but it was the first time he ever heard a Gentleman turn’d from the head of his own Table. Lieut. BIRD reply’d, if you think yourself ill used, I am ready to give you satisfaction, Capt: ROTTON told him he did not sport with his Life in that manner, that if he had thought it so serious a matter he would not have given him an opportunity of calling for Satisfaction, upon which I told Lieut. BIRD I thought it a very extraordinary line of Conduct to endeavor to turn a Gentleman from the head of his own table which Lieut. BIRD strenuously insisted upon was right.
Capt. ROTTON then said he was likewise much obliged to Mr. BUSKIRK for his polite behaviour. I reply’d Mr. BUSKIRK had seen very little of the world, but that he was as good a duty Officer as any in the Regiment. Lieut. BIRD said I hope you except me. I reply’d no, for that Mr. BUSKIRK had done more duty in one week in the Battalion than Lieut. BIRD had since he belonged to it. Lieut. BIRD said in a contemptuous manner, if he is Company for you he is not Company for me, a fellow just from the Plough.
The conversation then turn’d upon the behaviour of the three young Gentlemen at table, upon which I reply’d their conduct was such that none but a boy could be guilty of it. Lieut. BIRD said God damn me who do you call boy. I reply’d Mr. BIRD this is very extraordinary behaviour in you, what do you mean by it? Why will you come in to disturb us, for Gods sake leave us and go to your own room, which I repeated several times, Lieut. BIRD then rais’d his stick with a kind of insolent defiance, and called me a damned Rascal, which induced me to order him to his room under an arrest.
Lieut. BIRD treating it with the greatest levity, I called out to Capt: BURGESS to take away Lieut. BIRD’s Sword, convey him to his room and put him under Arrest. Capt. BURGESS went up to Lieut. BIRD put his hand upon his Arm and said, for Gods sake Mr. BIRD consider what you are about; consider it is your Commanding Officer, I then repeated to Capt. BURGESS it is my order you immediately put Lieut. BIRD under an Arrest, upon which Lieut: BIRD stepp’d back, clap't his hand upon his Sword, drew it half out and said, BURGESS keep off, or by God you are a dead man, but Capt. BURGESS closing in with Lieut: BIRD, catch’d him by the Coat from which he disengaged himself, I then order’d Capt: COFFIN to put him under an Arrest, Lieut. BIRD call’d out by God I will not be put under Arrest by any of you, and went out of the room having his hand still upon his Sword which was almost out of the Scabbard, and followed by Capt. COFFIN, I said to Capt. BURGESS, what a strange young man this is, and took up a bowl of Wine and Water that was upon the table, when I heard Lieut. BIRD say I was a damn’d Rascal and Scoundrel.
I went to the door and ordered the Serjeant Major to be sent for (as I had no Adjutant) to compell Lieut. BIRD to his Arrest, I called out to Mr. BIRD, go to your room or I will send you with a file of men. Lieut. BIRD reply’d damn your file of men, you are a damned Rascall, I then went up to Lieut. BIRD repeating the Words to go to your Room, upon which Lieut. BIRD struck me three times with a Cane upon my Shoulder, the bruises of which remained several days, irritated to the greatest degree at the insults and blows I had received, and being totally defenceless, and having every reason to apprehend that he had still his Arms, as Capt: COFFIN had not reported to me that he had submitted to his Arrest and as from the darkness of the night it was impossible for me to distinguish to the contrary, I seized a Sword from Capt: COFFIN and made a stroke at Lieut. BIRD, from which the unfortunate accident ensued, very far from my most distant intention.
I take the liberty of submitting to this Court, whether it was possible for me to have known that Lieut. BIRD had submitted to his Arrest, when I had occasion to ask for the Serjeant Major to order a file of men to enforce Lieut. BIRD’s obedience to my Orders, and I hope it will appear to this Court, notwithstanding the belief express’d in the Evidence of Capt: COFFIN, it was impossible for him to have imagined that he had made such a report to me, as there could not have been the least occasion for me to have call’d for further assistance, if he had even intimated to me, that he had prevailed upon Lieut: BIRD to obey the Arrest, and I have only to lament that Capt: COFFIN did not give me the information that was his indisputable duty as an Officer to do, as it would effectually have prevented the unhappy consequence, but it concerns me to say that I have reason to apprehend that he did not exert himself sufficiently, as Lieut: BIRD had a Sword belonging to Capt: COFFIN, and for the whole day before Lieut: BIRD wore only a Bayonet, and I hope it will appear by the Evidence I shall produce that he made an Application for Capt: UNAKE’s Sword, saying that I was a damn’d Rascal and Scoundrel, and surely Gentlemen, if I had, any malicious intention against the deceased, I should not have quitted the Room where my own Sword was, and two others upon the Table, close by where I pass’d, and go out, as I hope it will appear to this Court, totally defenceless & Mr. President and Gentlemen, can it be imagined that I would venture unarmed to give a blow to any man that I had a certainty was in possession of a Sword and a Stick, after Lieut. BIRDs having previously declared that any man that attempted to put him under an Arrest, should be put out of Existence, which is plainly proved by the testimony of Capt: COFFIN, the Evidence on the part of the Crown, and which I shall further prove in support of my defence, and it also appears by the Evidence of Capt: COFFIN that Lieut. BIRD resisted him, keeping him at the point of his Sword. And I make no doubt but I shall produce Evidence in support of my defence, to prove, that Lieut: BIRD came with a premeditated design to insult me.
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