“Under the Shadow of the Bayonet & the Appellation Tory”: Impressment of Goods in 1778

By 1777, the local population of Berks County had had enough. Reading, the County seat, had been a POW camp, a general hospital, and a military depot for at least a year. Guarding these supplies and personnel were Continental soldiers as well as militia. The toll these soldiers levied on the common farmer weighed heavy.

John Lesher, a furnace owner and farmer in Oley, District Township, wrote a letter to the state government, then at Lancaster, on 9 January 1778. It will undoubtedly give the reader some insight into the day-to-day lives of the farmers throughout Pennsylvania during this period.


I conceive it to be my Duty to acquaint you that I conceive I am no more master of any individual thing I possess; for, besides the damages I have heretofore Sustained by a number of Troops & Continental Waggons, in taking from me 8 Ton of Hay, desroy’d Apples sufficient for 10 hhds [hogs head-Ed.] Cyder, Eating up my Pasture, Burning my Fences, &c., and 2 Beeves I was oblig’d to buy at 1s. per lb., to answer their immediate want of Provisions, and at Several other times Since I have Supply’d detachments from the Army with Provisions. There has lately been taken from me 14 Head of Cattle & 4 Swine, the Cattle at a very low Estimate, to my infinite Damage, as they were all the Beef I had for my workmen for carrying on my Ironworks; I had rather deliver’d the Beef and reserv’d the Hides, Tallow, &c., but no Arguments will prevail, all must be deliver’d to a Number of Armed men at the point of the Bayonet. As my Family, which I am necessitated to maintain, consists of near 30 Persons, not reckoning Colliers, Wood Cutters and other day Labourers, my Provisions & Furnace, which I am about carrying on must of consequence be dropt, which will be a loss to the Public as well as myself, as there is so great a Call for Iron at Present for publick Use, & some Forges and Furnaces must of necessity fail for want of Wood and Ore.

Gentlemen: The Case in this neighbourhood is truly alarming, when the strongest Exertions of Ecconomy & Frugality ought to be Practised by all Ranks of Men, thereby the better to enable us to repel the Designs of a daring Enemy, who are now in our Land. It strikes me with Horror to see a number of our own Officers & Soldiers, wantonly waste & destroy the good Peoples Properties; by such conduct they Destroy the Cause they seek to maintain. Instead of Judicious men appointed in every Township, or as the Case may require, to Proportion the Demands equal according to the Circumstances of every Farmer & the general benefit of the whole, these men, under the Shadow of the Bayonet & the appellation Tory, act as they Please, our Wheat, Rye, Oats & Hay taken away at discretion and Shamefully wasted, and our Cattle destroy’d. I know some Farmers who have not a Bushel of Oats left for Seed, nor Beef sufficient for their own Consumption, while some others lose nothing, as a man who has 100 head of Cattle lost not one; such Proceedings I think to be very Partial. Many Farmers are so much discourag’d by such Conduct, that I have heard several say they would neither Plow nor Sow if this takes place; the consequence may be easily forseen, unless some Speedy & Effectual method be taken to put a stop to such irregular Proceedings, and encouragement & Protection extended to the good People of this Commonwealth. I Shudder at the Consequence.

PA Archives, Ser 1, Vol 6, 170-171.

[Image: Lesher mansion, c. 1744]


3 responses to ““Under the Shadow of the Bayonet & the Appellation Tory”: Impressment of Goods in 1778

  1. Pingback: Am I an ‘Anti-Gun’ Activist? (Part 1: Why I Am Not a Gun Rights Extremist) |·

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