18th Century Re-Enactment in the UK

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The 17th Regiment Camp at Inwood, New York City

W.L. Calver (1914) / Transcribed by James Martin


The following contextual report on the “17th Camp at Inwood” provides some interesting insights into the Revolutionary War site on Manhattan Island. The report is currently in the Leicestershire Records Office (Wigston, Leicester, UK) and is an uncatalogued item in that collection. The curator of the collection gave us special access to this item. It was apparently donated to the Records Office by an unknown party, but gratefully received by those studying the history of the site. This will be the first known digitisation of the work which will hopefully secure it for future generations of those studying His Majesty's 17th Regiment of Foot, or indeed any other British “redcoat” regiment in the American War of Independence. The item takes the form of an old red leather bound photograph album, with hand written notes and typewriter pages. The photographs have been included in this transcription.

W. L. Calver, the author of the report, was a member of the New York Historical Society, actively writing between 1894-1940 as well as chairing the NYHS “Field Exploration Committee” from 1918-1940. His work is chiefly associated with aspects of the military during the Revolutionary War and also the War of 1812. Further materials compiled by Calver can be found at the NYHS Museum & Library.

W.L. Calver (Left) duting excavations at Inwood, NYC.
W.L. Calver (Left) duting excavations at Inwood, NYC.

The young Hessian Lieutenant Von Krafft is referenced for context in Calver's “Sketch.” Von Krafft makes reference to the 17th Camp as well as the units that resided there.

This following transcription has been written using Calver's original abbreviations and sentence structure.

Calver's “Sketch”

A British Camp, discovered in March 1890, by the writer of this sketch, is located in the westerly side of the “Kingsbridge Road”, (Broadway), and North of Dykeman Street, and Prescott Avenue. Now "Payson Avenue"

Among local Antiquarians the Camp is now generally referred to as the “17th. Regiment Camp,” partly on account of the fact that large numbers of buttons of the British 17th Regiment of Foot have been found there, but more particularly because the place is designated “Camp of the 17th regiment, taken prisoner,” in a “view” of the north end of Mathatten Island, as it appeared in 1779; and also because the Hessian officer, Von Krafft, who drew the “view,” speaks of the huts there in 1779, as the “huts of the captured 17th. Foot.”

A copy of W. L. Calver's hand-drawn map of the Inwood site.
A copy of W. L. Calver's hand-drawn map of the Inwood site.

Judging from the buttons of the 6th. and 14th. regiments, found at Prescott Ave, a camp of some sort existed there as early as 1777, as both these corps returned to Europe in that year. Buttons of the 6th. Regiments have also been found at Fort George, At 192nd. Street, and Audobon Ave. and in a camp located on the westerly side of Nagle Ave,near it's junction with Kingsbridge Road. The discovery of buttons of the 6th. Regiment at three different places on the island is remarkable in view of the fact that the regiment was in New York only a very short time — perhaps a few months. Having served in the West Indies it was found too unhealthy for active service and returned to England in 1777.

W. L. Calver looking at the fireplace in the “officer's hut” at the '17th Camp.'
W. L. Calver looking at the fireplace in the "officer's hut" at the '17th Camp.'

Every desirable natural feature was present in the slit chosen for the 17th Camp. The ground was sufficiently elevated to insure good drainage; “Cock Hill” shielded the camp from the wintry blast, while the battery thereon protected the convenient landing place at Jubby Hook; the excellent spring which still flows at the corner of the Hawthorne and Cooper Streets provided for the thirst of man and beast. Not a little water was required for a camp such as this, particularly at the time when the 17th Light Dragoons, with their horses, were quartered there. As for the human occupants of the camp, however, the most careless observer today would conclude that a British soldier of the period imbibed profusely of other liquids than spring water, the countless fragments of old black bottles that bestrew the field, tell their own story. A few whole specimens of these wine and rum bottles have been recovered from the 17th Camp, and they are at once the largest, and frailest, relics that have survived.

Just when the 17th Regiment took possession of this Camp we cannot say; the records of the 17th do not state more than this — that the regiment was stationed in New York after the return from Philadelphia in the latter part of June 1778. The huts were probably erected in the Autumn of that year by the soldiers of the 17th and occupied by them during the following Winter. Von Krafft, the young Hessian officer, says in his Journal under date of May 18th 1779, that he was then employed on Battery at Fort Kuyphausen, with men detailed from the Hessian Body Regiment, and 17th and 57th Foot, and Robinson's Corps, there at work.

On the night of July 15th 1779, when Stoney Point was surprised and taken by the American troops under Gen'l Wayne, the British garrison consisted of the 17th Regiment; the Grenadier Company of the 71st Regiment; a company of the regiment of “Loyalist Americans” and a detachment of Artillery. Lieutenant Colonel Johnson of the 17th Regiment commanded the garrison. The 17th lost its colours at Stoney Point, and did not receive new ones until 1785.

After his reconnoiter in person on the New Jersey shore on July 18th, 1781, Washington made this entry in his Journal, after noting other camps:

“The other and only remaining encampment in view discoverable from west side of the river is between the Barrier and Kingsbridge, in the hollow, between Cox Hill and the heights below. One hundred tents could be counted in view of the same time; and others might be hid by the hills. At this place it is said the Yagers, Hessians and Anspacks lay.”

On July 26th 1779, Von Krafft says that the Landgraft's Regiment of Hessians were quartered in the "huts of the captured 17th Foot"; and on July 31st he says that "the Landgraft's Regt had to make room in the camp of the captured 17th for Lord Rawdon's Corps The “Volunteers of Ireland” which became the 105th Regiment., and pitch their tents at Charles Redoubt."

No buttons positively known to be Hessian have been found in the 17th Regiment Camp, or in any other camp upon, or in the vicinity of Manhatten Island; but several varieties of buttons plain, or nearly so, have been found in the several camps and have been attributed to the German troops. To this day the German soldiers have no number upon their buttons. The regimental buttons of the 17th Foot, found in the 17th Camp at Inwood are of three kinds — two varieties for the private soldiers, and one variety for the officers. The privates' buttons are made of pewter and have iron shanks cast into the white metal. Several specimens of privates' buttons have the regimental number “17” in raised figures upon their faces and have a raised “cord,” or “rope” border; but the larger number of buttons have the numerical designation depressed, and the face of the buttons stand somewhat higher than the milled border. Only two specimens of 17th Regiment At the time in 1914 private soldiers buttons have been found without the limits of the 17th Regt Camp. One of these specimens was discovered by the writer near the site of an old colonial house which had stood on the West Bank of the Harlem River at 211th Street. Officers' buttons of the 64th Regiment of Foot, and of the 16th and 18th Light Dragoons were also found at this place, which proves that the house had been the Headquarters of British Officers during the War of Independence. One other 17th Regiment private button was picked up by Dr. Marshall Saville, of the American Museum of Natural History in the British Camp at the 201st Street, and 9th Avenue along the shore of the Harlem.

The officers' buttons of the 17th Regiment found in the 17th Camp, are made in two pieces; the backs of the buttons are of a fine quality bone, or ivory, and the faces are of thin repousse silver, of an octagonal embroidery design. The regimental number appears in small figures within a circle in the centre if the buttons. These buttons were provided with loops of stout cord, or, gut, which were passed through four perforations in the bone or ivory backs, and this permitted of their being sewed securely to the garments: such buttons, of course, became entirely useless in case of injury to these loops. A flat, copper button of precisely the same design as the officers' buttons just described, was found recently in Tishkill Village, and is supposed to have been brought there by some American soldier — possibly one of those who had been at Yorktown, where the 17th surrendered with the Army of Cornwallis, Oct. 19th 1781. The silver buttons found in the 17th Camp agree with the Inspection Returns, which state that the officers of the 17th Regiment had silver buttons and lace when the regiment was inspected at Cork, Ireland, in September 1775, previous to its departure for America. The 17th sailed from Cork on the 23rd of Sept. 1775, but was detained by contrary winds and did not arrive at Boston until Jan 1st. 1776.

In addition to those of the 17th Regiment, and taking them in their numerical order, buttons of the following Corps have been found in the 17th Regimental Camp: The 6th, 7th, 14th, 35th, 45th, 47th, 52nd, 57th, 71st, and 80th Regiments of Foot; the New York Volunteers; Lt. Col Turnbull's Corps of Loyalists and the 17th Light Dragoons.

The departure of the 6th and 14th Regiments from these shores in 1777 has already been noted. The 7th Regiment had a very extended term of service in America, covering a period of about ten years. The regiment embarked for Canada in 1773. In the Autumn of 1775 by the surrender of the garrisons of Tit. Chambley, and St. John's, nearly the whole of the 7th Regiment were made prisoners of war. In the Autumn of 1776, the men of the 7th, having been exchanged, the Regiment transferred its service to New York. The regiment was quartered for the Winter at Amboy, and afterwards at Stattin Island. In October 1777 the Royal Fusiliers participated in the capture of Fts. Clinton and Montgomery on the Hudson, and in company with two corps of Germans destroyed the settlement, and burnt the Barracks at Continentalville.

The earliest information we have of the 7th Regiment being encamped about the Northern portion of Manhatten Island in the entry in Von Krafft's Journal, Sept 8th 1779, when he says that the 7th and 23rd Foot, which had been encamped in Spuyton Duyval Hill The site treated on in this paper departed by ship to New York. In the Southern campaign the 7th lost its colours at the Cowpens, and returned to New York, Aug 7th, 1782. The English and Hessian regiments, which had returned from the south at this time were distributed in quarters on Long Island, but transferred a few days after to New York with the Yagers (Von Krafft).

We have no information as to when the 35th Regiment occupied the 17th Regiment Camp. Only one button of the 35th has been found in the 17th Camp, but other specimens have been discovered at Ft. Washington, and in the camp at the intersection of Nagle Avenue and Broadway (“The Sanitary Camp”).

Von Krafft refers several times to the camping places of the 38th Regiment, but none of the localities designated appear to fit the 17th Camp — all are apparently further south; and Washington in his Journal under date of May 31st 1781, says that the 38th was encamped at Laurel Hill (Ft. George). Again on July 18th 1781 he says:

“On the Heights opposite the Morris White House there appears to be another regiment, supposed to be the 38th British.”

Buttons of the 38th have been found at 181st Street both sides if the Kingsbridge Road (Broadway).

Sketch of buttons found at InwoodA sketch of buttons of the 17th regiment of foot in pencil.

The 45th Regiment — 2 buttons of which were found in the 17th Camp — left the United States in 1778. One button of the 57th has been found at the head of Academy Street in the 17th Camp. Other specimens of the 57th buttons have been discovered at Ft. George, at Ft. Washington, and at Broadway and Nagle Avenue; and again at Ft. Tryon, those from Ft. Tryon were officer's (non-com) buttons — they had block tin faces, and were of the Sergeant Major. A beautiful specimen of an officer's button of the 57th was found at 164th Street and Wadsworth Avenue, in the year 1898. This specimen had a gilt face, land was probably worn by some officer whose headquarters was at the “Blue Bell”, which stood at the junction of the present 181st Street and Broadway.

In his Journal Washington mentions an encampment near Laurel Hill on July 18th 1781, and says there were about 45 tents and huts “which appear to be inhabited by, it is said, the 57th Regiment”. Washington then refers to the old camp of the 17th Regiment — the subject of this sketch — and says that “here it is said the Hessian Yagers, and Anspacks, lay.” In this connection Von Krafft says:

“June 18th 1781: The Hessian Yagers arrived here today from Long Island, and went into camp below Cox Hill “Cox Hill”, or “Cock Hill”, is the present “Inwood Hill” — embraced in Inwood Hill Park — The 17th Camp area is at the easterly side of the Hill, at the place where the huts of the former 17th English Regiment had been, and they received tents from the Landgrave Regiment and ours, because they could get no bushes, or wood around there to build huts with.”

The 52nd Regiment buttons found in Prescott Avenue have an interest in fixing the date of the 17th Regiment Camp. Von Krafft refers only once to the 52nd and says that they were encamped at Kingsbridge, Aug 7th 1778. This entry in his Journal was made before the 17th took possession if the camping place upon which the paper treats, and it is probable therefore that Von Krafft had this camp in mind when he said “Kingsbridge.” The 52nd returned to Europe in1778. Several buttons of the 52nd have been found in the Ft. George Camp at 193 Street, 11th Avenue.

Sketch of Officers' Buttons from Inwood
Sketch of Officers' Buttons from Inwood

Only two buttons of the 57th Regiment have been found in the 17th Regiment Camp; and these specimens have but little value in shedding light on the history of the Camp. The 57th was in America from 1777 to 1782, and much of its service lay in New York and the immediate vicinity.

The 17th Camp is the only place upon Manhattan Island where buttons of the 71st Regiment have been found. The 71st was frequently associated with the 17th Foot from Brooklyn to Yorktown where both Regiments surrendered.

Von Krafft mentioned the 80th Regiment twice in his Journal in 1780 — Dec 3rd and 11th, and says they were encamped on the north end of the island; but the exact place is not stated; a very critical reading of his Journal might, however, establish the spot. Von Kraffts says that the 80th was encamped at “Kingsbridge” Oct 24th 1780 and he may have had the 17th Camp in mind.

We have no record of the “New York Volunteers” being in the old camp of the 17th Regiment but this Loyalist corps was in New York during the summer of 1778, and also during the winder of 1779-80. One button only if the N.Y Volunteers was found in the 17th Camp, two other specimens, one of which was an officer's button, were found at Fort George, at 192nd Street, Audobon Avenue.

The 17th Regiment surrenders 245 men at Yorktown. The regiment returned to New York in January, 1783, and Aug 19th were ordered to hold themselves in readiness to sail for Nova Scotia. The 17th was stationed in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in 1784 and 1785, and sailed for England in 1786 when they arrived in Aug of that year.

In 1782 the Regiment assumed the title of the “Seventeeth,” or Leicestershire Regiment.