Revolutionary War Historical Article
The Men of the Commander-in-Chief Guards Captain Bezaleel Howe
By Donald N. Moran
Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the October 2006 Edition of the Liberty Tree Newsletter
Bezaleel Howe, Jr. (a) served as a Captain in the Commander-in-Chief Guards, and was the last to command the detachment. Like so many of the officers and men of the guard he was a true warrior, the type of man that led us to our independence and have since defended it. It is not surprising that his three brothers, Timothy (who survived the Wyoming Valley Massacre), Darius and Baxter, also served.
He was born in Marlborough, Massachusetts, on November 28th, 1750, the son of Bezaleel and Anna Foster.We know very little about his early years, but at age twenty-four he enlisted on April 23rd, 1775, four days after the opening shots of the Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord.
BEZALEEL HOWE'S REVOLUTIONARY WAR SERVICE
His first unit was in Captain Josiah Crosby's Company, 3rd Regiment of the Continental Line, commanded by Colonel James Reed. He was discharged from that Regiment on July 8th, 1775. We next find him as a 2nd Lieutenant in Captain Amos Morrill's Company, First New Hampshire Regiment commanded by Colonel John Stark. He was wounded on September 19th in the battle of Freeman's Farm (Saratoga Campaign). After recovering from his wound, he was assigned Major William Scott's Company and on June 24th, 1779 promoted to 1st Lieutenant. He served under Major Scott until he was transferred to the Commander-in-Chief Guards on September 5th, 1783, replacing Captain William Colfax who transferred to Colonel Herman Swift's Regiment of the Connecticut Continental Line. The rest of the members of the Guard were discharged. To replace them, a group of soldiers from the New Hampshire Continental Line was assigned. The following month, on October 10th, 1783 Bezaleel was promoted to Captain. He was placed in command of the newly organized detachment of the Guards that was to escort General Washington's baggage and records to Mount Vernon - - an important event inasmuch as it was the final mission of the Commander-in-Chief Guards and was another signal that the eight years of war was really at an end. We will detail that activity in this article. Bezaleel was discharged at West Point, New York on December 20th, 1783.
BEZALEEL HOWE'S FAMILY
Back in civilian life, Bezaleel married Hannah Merritt on October 24th, 1787. She died on September 18th, 1798 in New York. They had one daughter, Maria. He remarried on February 15th, 1800 to Catherine Moffat and by her had four daughters and four sons (c).
BEZALEEL HOWE AND THE INDIAN WARS
In spite of the treaties, the British continued to cause problems on the frontier by supplying the Indians with arms, ammunition and supplies and encouraging their attacks on the American settlers. President Washington ordered Major General "Mad" Anthony Wayne to organize an Army and resolve the problem. Bezaleel Howe again volunteered. He was appointed a 1st Lieutenant of the Second U. S. Infantry, on March 4th, 1791, promoted to Captain on November 1st, 1791, transferred to the Second Sub-Legion on October 20th, 1794 and discharged on November 1st 1794. He participated in all the operations against the Indians including the Battle of Fallen Timbers, which finally put an end to the British influence in the Northwest Territory.
LAST MISSION OF THE "GUARDS"
On November 9th, 1783, General Washington gave to Captain Howe a lengthy set of instructions on the safe transportation of his papers and baggage to his home at Mount Vernon.
"Instructions to Capt. Howe
You will take charge of the waggons which contain my baggage and with the escort proceed with them to Virginia, and deliver the baggage to my home - ten miles below Alexandria.
As you know they contain my papers which are of immense value to me, I am sure it is unnecessary to request your particular attention to them - - but as you will have several ferries to pass and some of them wide particularly the Susquehannah & Potomack I must caution you against crossing them if the wind should be high or if there is in your own judgment or opinion of others the least danger.
The waggons should never be without a sentinel over them always locked and the keys in your possession.
You will make such arrangements for the March with Col. Morgan (d) at this place and Mr. Hodgsden (e) at Philadelphia as may be necessary under all circumstances especially with respect to the expense - - failure of horses and breaking of waggons.
Your road will be through Philadelphia and Wilmington, thence by the Head of Elk to the lower ferry on the Susquehannah & thence to Baltimore, Bladensburgh, Georgetown and Alexandria to Mount Vernon.
You will enquire of Mr. Hodgsden and Colonel Biddle if Mrs. Washington left any thing in their care to be forwarded by waggons to Virginia, if she did and you can find room for it let it be carried if there is not - desire them to send by some other good opportunity.
The waggons and teams, after the baggage is delivered is to be surrendered to the order of Colonel Pickering which has I believe [has] been handed to Mr. Roberts and is to deliver them to Colonel Fitzgerald to be sold.
The bundle which contains my accounts you will be careful to deliver them at the financiers office with the letter addressed to him - - that is to Mr. Morris.
The other small bundle you will deliver to Mr. Cotringer in Chestnut Street.
Doctor McHenry's trunk and parcels you will (as I suppose he has already directed) leave at his House in Baltimore.
You will have the tents which are occupied by the Guard delivered to Col. Morgan, whose receipt for them will be a voucher for you to the Quarter Master General.
The remainder of the Guard under the care of a good sergeant with very strict orders to prevent every kind of abuse to the inhabitants on the March is to be conducted to their Corps at West Point.
Given at Rockyhill this 9th day of Nov. 1783.
George Washington" (f)
Captain Howe selected twelve guardsmen to accomplish this task, the last mission of the Guard. These guardsmen were: 1st Sergeant Nehemiah Stratton, 1st Corporal Asa Reddington (his diary is at Stanford University); Corporal Joel Holt, who served as wagon master, Privates: Stephen Ames, William Batchelder, James Blair, Ebenezer Coston, Abraham Currier, William Ferguson, David Morrison, Benjamin Pierce and Luther Smith.
Howe and his detachment left Rockyhill, New Jersey the next day, Monday. They arrived in Philadelphia on Tuesday Evening, the 11th. The next day they left Philadelphia for Mount Vernon. They passed through Chester, Wilmington, Baltimore, Bladensburg, Georgetown and Alexandria.
Upon their arrival at Mount Vernon, General Washington's grandson George Washington Parke Custis, who was born on April 30th, 1781, in his "recollections" wrote that he remembered their arrival (at age two an one half ?) and that they wore a blue coat with white facings, white breeches, black stock and black half gaiters and a round hat with blue and white feathers.
Unfortunately, this description provided by an "eyewitness" is often used to describe the uniform of the Guard, when in reality it is the uniform of the New Hampshire Continental Line.
As required by General Washington, Captain Howe kept a detailed financial account of the journey. The escort's expenses totaled one hundred and three pounds, four shillings and seven pence.
Howe's own account of expenses for the trip to Mount Vernon has not been located; it is not known exactly when he reached Mount Vernon with his cargo. According to Corporal Asa Reddington, the detachment of Guards marched back to West Point, New York, a distance of 295 miles (g). Upon their return they crossed the Hudson River to Constitution Island where they were honorably discharged from the Continental Army on December 20th, 1783.
General Washington left Rockyhill on November 16th and rode to West Point to meet with the Army. He arrived in Harlem on the 21st. On the 25th he and the Continental Army took possession of New York City from the British. He rode to Annapolis, Maryland where he appeared before Congress and resigned his commission. He arrived at his beloved home, Mount Vernon on Christmas Eve. He was not at his home when Captain Howe arrived with his six wagon loads of baggage.
The other issue that has added some confusion is that the escort is more often than not referred to as being mounted. Corporal Reddington wrote in his diary that they walked back to West Point. This makes sense when you consider twelve guards escorted six wagons - two men per wagon. Captain Howe, being an officer was probably mounted.
After his military service, Bezaleel Howe was appointed an Inspector at the New York City Customs House. He died in New York City on September 3rd, 1825.
(a) Bezaleel is an ancient Biblical name found in the Old Testament and very frequently in the colonial Howe family.
(b) The miniature of this painting has not been seen since 1906.
(c) Bezaleel Howe's children were:
- Maria --------b. 06 Jan. 1789---------------- d. 1852
- Eliza ----------b. 19 Nov. 1800--------------- d. in infancy
- George -------b. 23 Sept. 1802 --------------d. 04 Dec. 1841
- Margaretta -b. 27 Feb. 1804 --------------- d. 01 Dee. 1896
- John ---------- b. 23 Jan. 1805 --------------- d. 05 Feb. 1885
- Oscar ---------b. 11 Mar. 1808 ---------------d. in infancy
- Julia Ann ---- b. 04 Oct. 1810---------------- d. in infancy
- Catherine ----b. 21 Sept. 1812--------------- d. 04 Mar. 1883
- Bezaleel ----- b. 17 Aug. 1815---------------- d. 18 Jan. 1858
(d) Colonel George Morgan, Commissary Department
(e) He was the Army's Assistant Quartermaster.
(f) This letter is in the manuscript files of New York University along with 75 items from Captain Howe.
(g) The 295 miles is based on Year 2006 driving miles, but their known route of march would have been close to the same route one would presently drive.
“Major Bezaleel Howe - 1750-1825” by: Herbert B. Howe
Privately printed - 66 pages - Library of Congress
“The Commander-in-Chief’s Guard” by: Carlos F. Godfrey, Ph.D.
Originally published: 1904 - publisher: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1972 (DNM Lib.)
“The Encyclopedia of the American Revolution” by: Col. Mark M. Boatner, III (USA).
“Life Guard of Washington” Publisher: David McKay Company - 1974 (DNM Lib.)
“George Washington' sIndispensable Men” by: Arthur S. Lefkowitz
Publisher: Stackpole Books - 2003 (DNM Lib.)
“Washington's Crossing” by: David Hackett Fischer, Ph.D.
Publisher: Oxford University Press - 2004 (0MM Jib.)
“The Writings of George Washington from Original Manuscript Sources” -39 vol. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor - Publisher: United States Government Printing Office. (DNM Lib.)
“TheContinental Army” by: Robert K. Wright, Ph.D.
Publisher: Center of Military History - United States Army - 1983 (DNM Lib.)
“To Major Gibbs With Much Esteem” by: Howard H. Wehmann
ublisher: “Prologue Magazine” - National Archives, Volume 4 (1972)
“George Washington, a Biography” by: Douglas Southall Freeman - 7 Volumes
Publisher: Scribners, New York - 1948 (DNM Lib.)
“The Field Book of the American Revolution” by: Benson J. Lossing -2 volumes
Publisher: Harper, New York -1951 (DNM Lib.)
“Pension Records” - Held at the National Archives, Washington, D.C.