The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!

Raccoon sketch by Wendy Harty, March 2021 I imagine even the raccoons were wondering what the hullabaloo was about?

Elizabeth Switzer Miller heard the horse and the cry of the dispatch. She had milked the cow, gathered the eggs, churned the butter and kneaded the bread, all the while keeping an eye on Rebecca my 5th great grandmother who wouldn’t be three until November and her brother Peter, aged two. She would hitch the pony to the cart and go to her parents, Philip and Anna Marie Switzer. Peter, her father, had been chosen to remain behind in Camden Valley to guard the women and children and their farms when her husband Garrett Miller and the other Irish Palatines followed Justus Sherwood to Canada. Her father would perhaps have news.

The excellent plan that General John Burgoyne proposed had been approved by King George III. General Burgoyne was called Gentleman Johnny because he treated his troops fairly. Garrett Miller was one of them, having joined the King’s Royal Regiment. General Burgoyne, bringing 8000 troops down from Canada would cut off the northern states when he joined 2 other British brigades and had the British naval ships to back him up. Garrett’s job as quarter master was to administer the supplies to the troops in his battalion. Imagine trying to move supplies for 8000 men and 1000 women and children that followed them. The march wasn’t made any easier when the Patriots cut down trees across the roads that were merely trails and destroyed bridges. The British were bringing 38 cannon with them and wagons of supplies: some vital, some luxurious for the Generals. To be chosen for such a task as this organization of supplies and promoted to Captain, Garrett Miller must have stood out. General Burgoyne was causing fear in the American hearts as he marched and won battle after battle: Crown Point, Mount Independence, Ticonderoga, a hard fought struggle at Hubbardton, and on down the Hudson River Valley, through Forts Ann and Edward. And as they came, the call went out, The British are coming! The British are coming! Then that plan that was heard inside London’s castle walls suddenly didn’t look so good! Burgoyne was on his own due to military jealousy and miscommunications. He needed horses, cattle to feed the troops and ammunition. His scouts reported all three were at Bennington, Vermont. His troops slowed to a crawl and hardly made a mile per day. The British had hired mercenaries called Hessians from Germany. They men were cavalry and fitted as such with saddles, guns in scabbards, and boots that weighed 8 pounds. There were over 200 of them on foot, as their horses had perished.

Burgoyne changed his plan; the goal being to take over the American supply depot at Bennington, Vermont, 20 miles away. Whoa, Stop the Horses! Bennington, Vermont is where Keziah Atwood Gibbs, mother Hannah Doane Atwood Higgins and step father are buried. And her brother Stephen Atwood, in my historical fiction story ran to get the three men to write their father’s will. That means that Stephen Atwood and Keziah’s sons, Isaac and Jacob Gibbs, who were with George Washington’s Continental Army would soon be shooting at Garrett Miller!

Unknown to General Burgoyne his dispatch had been intercepted and the Americans knew his plans. He chose a Hessian to lead the foray into hostile American territory who spoke no English. Five miles before Bennington, the Hessian dictated a dispatch, “Send me help”, when his scouts said the Americans were waiting. The American command was under John Stark. Within one week he had mustered 1500 militia men including Seth Warner and the Green Mountain Boys and they were assembled at Bennington. The hills of Vermont and New York are heavily wooded. From a high hill John Stark made his battle plans. He would lead the main militia in a straight forward attack. He would also send on a six mile double march to the north troops and another troop 6 miles south so get behind the British. Then the day of the battle John Stark rallied his troops saying, “The Redcoats are our. They are ours or Molly Stark sleeps a widow!”

August 16, 1777 the British saw the Americans coming and they threw up breastworks across the river. The Hessians that had asked for help fortified a hill top throwing up an earthworks. At 3 PM that afternoon the Hessians were watching the river fight when up behind them came the troops sent to flank them. They were outnumbered ten to one. After two hours of fighting they fled down the hill and many were shot or captured. The Americans who had crossed the river, forded the river, and scrambled up the steep bank. They were being decimated when reinforcements arrived from Burgoyne. They drove the Americans back one mile into a ravine where their line was giving way. Then 500 fresh troops came to their rescue called the Green Mountain Boys and they fought until dark and left the battle field.

Somewhere in this battle Garret Miller my sixth great grandfather took a musket to his arm and was captured! Garrett was one of seven hundred captured that day and marched away to the Old Bennington town. He was in the state of Vermont. Was he flogged? I do not know but his statement to the Loyalists says he bore the marks of war on his body. Burgoynes army was reduced by 1000, he still had no food, horses or ammunition and he would be totally defeated at the Battle of Saratoga, when he also learned the French had entered the war taking the side of the Americans.

Historians lead me to believe that the crushing defeat at Bennington changed the course of history and it certainly did for Garrett and Elizabeth Miller. Garrett was marched down to Boston, a captive of the Revolutionary War. The farm was confiscated the next year in 1778. The Patriots didn’t have jails built to hold all the captives and the towns were on their own to incarcinate them. Eventually the prisioners were loaned out to work on farms. Garrett walked away or escaped. His brother-in-law Philip Switzer had also been captured. Peter his father paid 100 pounds and got him released on bail.

Garrett Miller was the United Empire Loyalist after escaping over a year of imprisonment, came to Canada on May 5, 1778. Little Rebecca Miller, my 5th great grandmother was placed on the front of the saddle of her uncle Switzer, unnamed, but I believe it was Elizabeth’s brother Philip Switzer as he shows up arriving on the same day. They would travel over 200 miles through the woods, with the Revolutionary War still ongoing. The family were all reunited at Sorel, Canada. Sorel, Canada was the British military hospital camp. I believe Garrett was located here either sick or very hurt. These refugees of mine again lived in tents. When winter came on they moved the tents along the tree line trying to avoid the winter winds and banked snow to insulate them. Here the family stayed for several years with their names on the list as receiving provisions from the British Government at Sorel. In 1780, Garrett was hospitalized, perhaps his shoulder wound needed attention. On May 1, 1781 Garrett Miller was honorably discharged from John Peter’s Corp, King’s Royal Regiment. With a new baby boy, named William who was born in 1783 at Sorel in her arms, Elizabeth and Garrett started farming at Trois Rivers, where once more disaster struck The family, when the farm in Camden Valley was confiscated lost all they had accumulated especially any paperwork. This will be the story of their next downfall.

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