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Affair at the Liberty Pole

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

March 10. –Among numerous misrepresentations in Mr. Rivington’s Gazetteer of yesterday, are many notorious ones, mixed with sundry absolute falsehoods, in a paragraph to which the names of William Cunningham and John Hill are affixed as subscribers. In this extraordinary paragraph, above two hundred men of New York are represented as having united in abusing those two inoffensive gentlemen, and in that disorderly, riotous company, two inhabitants of that city 1 are particularly mentioned by name, and positively charged, not only with abusing the two harmless innocents before mentioned, but with robbery and high treason.

On reading this account we were naturally led, by several circumstances, to inquire into the characters of the two persons accused, and of their accusers. The two first we find to be citizens, bred if not born in New York, peaceable, inoffensive men of property, and of irreproachable characters. The two last strangers here, (especially Cunningham,) almost entirely unknown, except by the little specimens they have lately exhibited of their characters, which are not much in their favor. As to Hill, we have heard, and therefore shall say but little about him. He has brought himself upon the stage as a companion, an associate of Cunningham, and a volunteer with him in the glorious expedition, wherein their defeat has afforded them an opportunity of making conspicuous figures in Rivington’s Gazetteer. As to Cunningham, his former character is unknown to us, but we may reasonably suppose it was not inconsistent with the specimen he has given us during the short space of time we have been favored with his company. His first exhibition was in the character of a Son of Liberty; that is, a friend and asserter of the rights of the people, and the English Constitution, a warm, patriot, and opposer of the tyrannical acts and pretensions of the British Parliament. But in a few days, touched, not with Ithuriel’s spear, but with an impulse from a spirit of a quite opposite nature, he starts up at once in his true character, a finished emissary of tyranny, officiously distinguishing and thrusting himself forward, to execute the orders and promote the designs of the enemies of his country, to destroy its constitution, and reduce it to a state of slavery.

His first appearance that we have heard of, was to interpose in preventing the departure of the Scotch ship, and thereby cause a violation of the solemn association of the British American colonies, agreed on last year by the delegates in general Congress at Philadelphia. But in this being unable to effect any tiling, except showing his principles and disposition, fame had little to say of him, till this exploit in the fields, except that he has often been heard blustering in behalf of the ministry, and that his behavior had recommended him to the favor of several men of eminence, both in the military and civil departments–that he has often been seen, on a footing of familiarity, at their houses, and parading the streets on a horse belonging to one of the gentlemen, who, doubtless, is not displeased with the conduct of the rider.

We did not know until we saw this account in Rivington’s paper that these same gentlemen helped to make up the group of woful countenances of the minor party at the Exchange on the memorable sixth of March; a day which our heroes doubtless intended to make as famous by their achievements in the afternoon, as it was by the defeat in the morning of the party under which they enlisted. And this may reasonably account for their conduct at the liberty-pole, as well as their design in going there, where they say they were so cruelly attacked by a mob of about two hundred men.

Messrs. Hill and Cunningham appeared and made part of the minority at the Exchange on the sixth. Their business was to prevent the execution of the measures recommended by the Continental Congress for the preservation of our constitutional rights and liberties, and consequently to promote the designs of the British Ministry, in subjecting America and all the British empire to a despotic government. And these men for thus appearing, or perhaps bullying a little, have the modesty to pretend that they appeared on the king’s side, though opposed to the very principles on which he holds his crown. As a further proof of their modesty they call upwards of two hundred men, assembled at the liberty-pole, who were probably part of the respectable majority from the Exchange, a mob. 2

A great body of the majority from the Exchange returned to the liberty-pole, when Cunningham and Hill came among them. The behavior of this majority at the Exchange demonstrated their peaceable disposition; and having succeeded in all they intended, they were in high good humor, and less disposed to quarrel than before. It is therefore highly improbable that they should have, been the aggressors in quarrelling with Cunningham and Hill, or have used them in the unfair, abusive manner they have represented. These two men, on the contrary, having shared in the disappointment of their party, were probably soured in their temper, and went among the other party with a design to quarrel and raise disturbance. When upon such an occasion and in such a company they began a quarrel, it is no wonder they were roughly treated, but rather that they escaped so well. They have, in their improbable, inconsistent account, expressly charged two of the company with robbing them of a watch, and requiring them to curse the king; for which scandalous assertions, under their hand, it is said suits are commenced against them, and ample damages will doubtless be recovered; as from a great number of depositions of creditable persons who were present, it appears that the report against Messrs. Richards and Van Dyck is entirely groundless. It is said that Cunningham has declared that he should not have published the account, if he had not been urged to it by one or more gentlemen of the minor party. 3


1 Smith Richards and James Van Dyck.
2 What they might be when these two gentlemen came amongst them, we shall not pretend to say; but before that, we believe they deserved a more respectful appellation. —Author of the Article.
3 Holt’s Journal, March 23. See Rivington’s account, March 9.

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