Recruitment during the American Revolution
by Captain Alexander Graydon
[Excerpted from American History Told by Contemporaries, Vol. II: Building of the Republic, Albert Bushnell Hart, ed. (New York, MacMillan, 1899), pp. 481-483]
Graydon served in the continental army, was made a prisoner, and later was released on parole. Most of his life was spent in Pennsylvania. His work has the faults of reminiscence, but undoubtedly gives us the spirit of his experiences.
The object now was to raise my company, and as the streets of the 1 city had been pretty well swept by the preceding and contemporary levies, it was necessary to have recourse to the country. My recruiting party was therefore sent out in various directions; and each of my officers as well as myself, exerted himself in the business. Among the many unpleasant peculiarities of the American service, it was not the least that the drudgery, which in old military establishments belongs to sergeants and corporals, here devolved on the commissioned officers; and that the whole business of recruiting, drilling, &c. required their unremitted personal attention. This was more emphatically the case in recruiting; since the common opinion was, that the men and the officers were never to be separated, and hence, to see the persons who were to command them, and above all, the captain, was deemed of vast importance by those inclining to enlist: for this reason I found it necessary, in common with my brother officers, to put my feelings most cruelly to the rack; and in an excursion I once made to Frankford, they were tried to the utmost. A number of fellows at the tavern, at which my party rendezvoused, indicated a desire to enlist, but although they drank freely of our liquor, they still held off. I soon perceived that the object was to amuse themselves at our expense, and that if there might be one or two among them really disposed to engage, the others would prevent them. One fellow in particular, who had made the greatest shew of taking the bounty, presuming on the weakness of our party, consisting only of a drummer, corporal, my second lieutenant and myself, began to grow insolent, and manifested an intention to begin a quarrel, in the issue of which, he no doubt calculated on giving us a drubbing. The disgrace of such a circumstance, presented itself to my mind in colors the most dismal, and I resolved, that if a scuffle should be unavoidable, it should, at least, be as serious as the hangers which my lieutenant and myself carried by our sides, could make it. Our endeavor, however, was to guard against a contest; but the moderation we testified, was attributed to fear. At length the arrogance of the principal ruffian, rose to such a height, that he squared himself for battle and advanced towards me in an attitude of defiance. I put him by, with an admonition to be quiet, though with a secret determination, that, if he repeated the insult, to begin the war, whatever might be the consequence. The occasion was soon presented; when taking excellent aim, I struck him with the utmost force between the eyes and sent him staggering to the other end of the room. Then instantly drawing our hangers, and receiving the manful co-operation of the corporal and drummer, we were fortunate enough to put a stop to any further hostilities. It was some time before the fellow I had struck, recovered from the blow, but when he did, he was quite an altered man. He was as submissive as could be wished, begging my pardon for what he had done, and although he would not enlist, he hired himself to me for a few weeks as a fifer, in which capacity he bad acted in the militia; and during the time he was in this employ, he bore about the effects of his insolence, in a pair of black eyes. This incident would be little worthy of relating, did it not serve in some degree to correct the error of those who seem to conceive the year I776 to have been a season of almost universal patriotic enthusiasm. It was far from prevalent in my opinion, among the lower ranks of the people, at least in Pennsylvania. At all times, indeed, licentious, levelling principles are much to the general taste, and were of course popular with us; but the true merits of the contest, were little understood or regarded. She opposition to the claims of Britain originated with the better sort: it was truly aristocratic in its commencement; and as the oppression to be apprehended, had not been felt, no grounds existed for general enthusiasm. She cause of liberty it is true, was fashionable, and there were great preparations to fight for it; but a zeal proportioned to the magnitude of the question, was only to be looked for in the minds of those sagacious politicians, who inferred effects from causes, and who, as Sir. Burke expresses it, " snuffed the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze."
Certain it was, at least, that recruiting went on but heavily. Some officers had been more successful than others, but none of the companies were complete: mine perhaps contained about half its complement of men, and these had been obtained by dint of great exertion. In this situation, captain Lenox of Shee's regiment also, suggested the trying our luck on the Eastern shore of Maryland, particularly at Chester, situated on the river of that name. It having been a place of some trade, it was supposed there might be seamen or longshoremen there, out of employ.... Mr. Heath ... helped us ... to a recruit, a fellow, he said, who would do to stop a bullet as well as a better man, and as he was a truly worthless dog, he held, that the neighborhood would be much indebted to us for taking him away....
. . . With such unfavorable prospects in Maryland, it would have been folly to have proceeded further: we therefore, set off on our way home the next morning.... Returning by Warwick, we sent forward our solitary recruit, for whom we tossed up; and in winning, I was, in fact, but a very small gainer, since his merits had been set at their full value by Mr. Heath; and he was never fit for any thing better than the inglorious post of camp colour man.
After this unsuccessful jaunt I bent my course to the Four-lane ends, Newtown, and Corryell's ferry; thence passing into Jersey, I proceeded to the Hickory tavern, to Pittstown, Baptisttown, Flemmingtown, and other towns, whose names I do not remember. As captain Stewart (the late general Walter Stewart) of our regiment, had recently reapt this field, I was only a gleaner: In the whole of my tour, therefore, I picked up but three or four men: and could most sincerely have said,
That the recruiting trade, with all its train, Of endless care, fatigue, and endless pain,
I could most gladly have renounced, even without the very preferable alternative of captain Plume. My member of privates might now have amounted to about forty, but these were soon augmented by the noble addition of one and twenty stout native Americans, brought by lieutenants Edwards and Forrest from Egg Harbour.
[Alexander Graydon, Memoirs of a Life, Chiefly passed in Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, 1811), 117-122 passim. ]