Has someone ever come into your life and changed your world? I believe a man named Justus Sherwood not only changed history for my 6th great grandfather’s family but also history as it is written.
My podcast has followed my 9th, 8th and 7th grandparents out of Germany, The Guiers, Switzers, and Millers, where they lived as Irish-Palatines in Ireland for 55 years. Finally the original dream of coming to the shores of America happens. Garrett Miller and Elizabeth Switzer marry in 1773, my 6th great grandparents. They are building a good and happy and prosperous future – the kind of life you think apple pie and roses.
What is the history behind the Revolutionary War? The Sons of Liberty were a secretive group of 9 Boston based patriots. Their most famous act of disobedience was destroying 92,000 pounds of British tea that December of 1773 just after Garrett and Elizabeth got married. They were a radical rabble rousing resistance to rule of Britain. They gained a following and marched through Boston, burned an effigy of the custom official, broke into his house and looted it. They organized a boycott to keep British goods out of Massachusetts and they enforced it by smashing windows of local shops who didn’t comply. If that didn’t work they’d kidnap the owner tar and feathering him, a painful humiliatingly torture. The men who owned the tea were shareholders in the East India Company who if paid in todays dollars would be worth a million dollars per share. Many of these men also sat in the British parliament!. The patriots rejected the authority of British parliament to make laws for America and argued that Americans shouldn’t pay taxes. In response Britain closed the harbor, appointed a British military governor, named Gage, and sent troops. The southern states became involved after a 7 hour British naval bombardment. The two port towns with wooden buildings went up in flames. The British offered the slaves freedom if they took up arms on the loyalist side. Definitely two sides of a battle looming During all this turmoil, Rachel Miller, was born to Garrett and Elizabeth, 1774.
Rachel wasn’t even a year old when on April 19, 1775, Gage led soldiers to Lexington to capture the radical leaders and then go on to Concord to take away their stores of gunpowder. Spies found out his plan and Paul Revere rode ahead and warned the American militiamen and with shots fired The War of Independence started. This was the era that another cousin of my dad’s, Patrick Henry, spoke his famous words, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
For two years while all this was going on, the Miller and Switzer families kept farming, improving their land and growing their families. As Irish-Palatines they would remember their history of a British Queen Anne supplying transport ships and food and tents along the Thames River where they found shelter as refuges when they were starving. And then someone dumps tea in the Boston Harbor and the first shot is fired at Lexington.
The first baby born November 5, 1774 at Camden Valley, was my 5th great grandmother, Rebecca Miller. Then a boy named Peter, after Elizabeth’s father, Peter Switzer September 17, 1775 and a daughter Catherine June 1776. The next month the colonists declared themselves independent, rejected the monarchy and proclaimed all men equal. On April 29, 1776 Garrett Miller was induced to sign an oath of allegiance.
Induced to sign? Was this to avoid being burnt out, or even worse tar and feathered! In violation of this oath, Garrett, and his brother’s Jacob and David Miller and all those Camden Valley Palatine’s, shouldered muskets not to fight the British empire but to fight the Patriots. The decision was made and I think it was this man, Justus Sherwood, when they heard his story changed their course in history.
Justus Sherwood, was one of Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys, a very hardy lot. Ethan Allan tried to keep Vermont loyal to Britain. Justus Sherwood’s name is found on a list of confiscation. Vermont issued an act to prevent the return to the state of certain persons who have left and joined the British enemy. It stated, “If they return they will be whipped on the naked back not less than 20 or more than 40 stripes punishment inflicted and ordered to leave, the State. If they continue to stay they will be convicted before the Supreme Court and put to death.” Justus Sherwood was caught and imprisoned for about a month in the Simsbury Mines. He would bare the whipping but escaped before being sentenced to life imprisonment. Justus led the loyalists including Garrett Miller and his two brothers, Jacob and David, from New York, through 200 miles of wilderness to join Carleton at Crown Point, in October 1776. The site was in British hands and served as a base for Loyalists, who launched raids against frontier farms and settlements that were supplying the rebel army. Garrett Miller joined the King’s Royal Regiment of New York serving in Canada and was made captain. Peter Switzer, his father-in-law was chosen as one of three to remain behind to protect the women and children. History does not give it up its secrets to me how Elizabeth Switzer Miller with three small children survived these years of war. Or how Peter, Elizabeth’s father, stayed under the Patriot’s radar, but they did not confiscate his farm. Peter and Anna Marie Switzer with a family of 7, continued to have 3 more children during the war years of 1772, 1776 and 1779. Elizabeth was 22 with their three children and a farm: Rebecca was 3, Peter 2 and Catherine only 4 months when Garrett marched away! I give Elizabeth Switzer Miller my respect with her moxie and determination and nerve she must have had. The next Elizabeth heard from Garnett, was at the Battle of Bennington, August 16, 1777 about 28 miles away from their home at Camden Valley.