The British Empire and the Revolutionary War: Recent Acquisitions

The Manuscripts Division has recently acquired several manuscripts relating the British Empire in North America during the Revolutionary War. These acquisitions have been possible by special funds made available to the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections for the purpose. The earliest of these recent acquisitions is a manuscript penned by Colonel Thomas Howard (1735–78), “A Sketch of the Interest of Great Britain in her American Colonies, with Some Remarks upon the Policy, Trade, and Commerce of America,” probably dating from the late 1760s (C1555). The author advocates free trade between Britain and the American colonies, encouragement of American manufacturing, a better understanding of the needs and desires of American settlers, limitation of taxation, and abolition of legislation reserving white pines to be used as masts on British ships. The manuscript is written in the same hand as an 8-page autograph letter of 30 November 1777, signed by “Thomas Howard” and addressed to Thomas, 1st Earl of Clarendon, on British military policy and difficulties in the American Revolution. “The country is so very strong, and the general enmity so very prevalent against us, that we find infinite difficulties whenever we are separated for any length of time from our shipping…” The letter was written in Philadelphia by Colonel Howard, commander of the First or Grenadier Guards in America, during the winter of 1777–1778. At the time, the British Army occupied the city and Continental forces were encamped at Valley Forge. While returning back to England in 1778, Howard was killed when the British ship in which he was sailing was attacked by an American privateer. His brother was John Howard (1739–1820), also a British military officer, became 15th Earl of Suffolk in 1783. This manuscript came from Holywell House, Hampshire, home of the Villiers family, earls of Clarendon.

Also from Holywell House are manuscript essays by Ambrose Serle (1742–1812) on North America, its economic opportunities, and other subjects (C1556). Serle was a British colonial official, who in 1772 was appointed under-secretary to William Legge (1731–1801), 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, Secretary of State for the Colonies. Serle also served from 1776 to 1778 as Secretary to General William Howe, commander of British forces in North America, and remained in America until 1780. Contents of the volume include: (1) “Thoughts of the Fur Trade on the River Mississippi,” 10 pages, 1769; (2) “Lusus Politicus or an Essay on the Pretensions of the Colonies,” 29 pages, 1769; (3) “Thoughts upon the Means of Establishing Episcopacy in the Colonies,” two copies, one with an introduction signed by the author addressed to Lord Hillsborough [Wills Hill, 1st Marquis of Downshire (1718–1793)], 71 pages, 1771–1772; (4) “A Political Essay,” concerning Rhode Island, 19 pages, August 1772; (5) Untitled tract on American policy, addressed to Lord Hyde, signed and dated, 10 pages, Lambeth, 28 May 1768; (6) Signed untitled tract on the development of manufacturing in America, addressed to Lord Hyde [Thomas Villiers, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1709–1786)], 7 pages, Lambeth, 26 July 1768; (7) “An Epitome of Some Facts and Thoughts respecting North America,” arguing that the American colonies had been a drain on British resources, 18 pages, January 1780. Serle wrote six of these tracts before publishing his well-known political pamphlet, Americans against Liberty; or an Essay on the Nature and Principles of True Freedom, Shewing that the Designs and Conduct of the Americans Tend only to Tyranny and Slavery (1775).

Other recent acquisitions include sets of financial accounts related to provisioning of the British Army. The more significant accounts are for Daniel Chamier (1724-1778), a wealthy Baltimore-born Loyalist, who served as Commissary General of the British Army in North America, 1774-1777 (C1560). The principal item is a 43-foot parchment roll, detailing the funds that he expended in provisioning the British Army during those years, from Nova Scotia to Florida. The detailed financial records underscore the saying, “an army moves on its stomach.” Chamier’s accounts include expenses for forces under generals Sir William Howe, Lord Charles Cornwallis, Sir Henry Clinton, and Thomas Gage. Chamier’s heirs and family compiled these records in the 1790s in an effort to gain reimbursement for the personal fortune that Chamier had spent during his service as Commissary General; for it appears that Chamier received some £65,000, but spent more than £300,000. Payments covered costs for provisions, including beef, pork, flour, rum, vinegar, rice, potatoes, turnips, corn, and butter, as well as for printing stationery and advertisements. Some of the printing was done by New York Loyalist printers Hugh Gaine and James Rivington.

The Manuscripts Division also acquired a two-volume British Army account book kept in the Carolinas and Florida, recording expenditures during the final stages of the Revolutionary War, 1781-1782 (C1559). The accounts are under headings, such as garrisons, labor, construction, transport, and names of individuals or companies. Some expenditures relate to African Americans. For example, Colonel James Moncrief, an engineer and commander of the Black Pioneers (a black loyalist force), spent £7.18s.8d with Walter Stewart, a hairdresser, £3.5.4 on a spy glass from George Ward and gave an order for the payment of £1.1.9 to “Negroe Jack, a Carpt.”

These recent acquisitions are most welcome because Princeton already has significant holdings of original research materials for this period. Most of these materials have come to the Library either as gifts of generous Princeton alumni collectors, such as Andre DeCoppet, Class of 1915. His extraordinary collection of American historical documents (C0063) includes “A Brief History of the American War.” The author of this manuscript was an English supporter of the American war for independence. A “Preliminary Discourse” and the early chapters of the main text largely consist of the author’s philosophical viewpoints on war, religion, and civil government. Later chapters include more historical detail. The history is incomplete, stopping with an account of a 1778 battle in Rhode Island. The manuscript was originally housed in a wooden box covered in brown leather with gold tooling. The box has a contemporary ownership inscription, “The Revd. E. Cartwright.” Initial speculation that the manuscript may have been written by British reformer Major John Cartwright or his brother Edmund Cartwright has been quelled, largely based on the author’s extremely antagonistic view of the Church of England, of which both Cartwrights were members. The author never references himself by name, which makes any attribution of authorship highly speculative.

For more information about these and other holdings of the Manuscripts Division, consult the online catalog and finding aids site. One can also contact Public Services,

Chamier roll