• Revolutionary War Gen. William North Complains About Servant "The Bond made him like a Negro"

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    In this chatty letter, Revolutionary War General William North writes from Duanesburg, New York, and complains of a recently hired servant sent to him, revealing much about the nature of such service at the time. He wrote to Benjamin M. Mumford, a merchant and insurance broker, who a decade earlier had moved to nearby Schenectady, New York, from New York City.

    [REVOLUTIONARY WAR]. William North, Autograph Letter Signed, to Benjamin M. Mumford, April 21, 1827, [Duanesburg, New York]. 4 pp., 7 3/4 x 9 1/2.


    21 April 1827

    “Dr Sir,

    “I have this moment, put it in the option of Thornton to remain & do what is necessary & proper for him to do about the house, viz to clean the knives, tend table &c, & to take care of Delias horse, or to quit, as he pleased, for I was sick, & tired of his continual grumbling, & demanding new terms. He said He would quit, and, my man going to Town, He got into the waggon, & is off. & I am glad of it, for never have I had so disagreeable time with any man I ever hired. The first day He came He talked of the Bond, "all on one side, his friends loath to let him come so far, could get more wages there &c" I said every thing to quiet his mind but it would not do, He expected he said, that when his time was out, I would pay his expenses home. I did not give him a flat refusal, but told him that if He behaved well there should be no difficulty between us, for that time he seemed satisfied, expected I would treat him as my own son, I say yes, & so ended the first day as the Arabian Nights entertainments say, but on the second, for He had been among my men who were blowing rocks & making rock fence, He said that He thought his wages were too low, He could have got more, &c; I argued with him, that a tavern life was a servile & uncomfortable life, &c &c, that here he had a room & bed & every thing for his comfort, slept all night no knocking up at night &c. He said Yes, but He had been taken in with the Bond & desired to have it destroyed, I got it & read it to him that I was as much bound as He was &c. The next days conversation was on his being so far from his friends & I told him that if He would remain & act properly till the 1st of October, I would then pay & discharge him. He said he could not work on the farm, Major Mason had ruined his constitution by working too hard on his farm. I agreed that his work should be in and about the house, & not for a day, on the farm—in short for I am tired of plaguing my self & you with this business, every day He has had some point, He does not like to clean knives, nor tend tables, the Bond made him like a Negro, He had been taken in, He could not stay longer than the 1st Sept His wages were too small &c &c. He so continually plagued me, that I declare to god, I hated to hear his step in the entry, or be where he was. This morning, as the young woman in the Kitchen told us, He swore he would not clean knives or tend tables. I am obliged to you for the trouble you have taken in this affair, & sorry that by the ill conduct of this boy that your kind intentions have been frustrated. I am your friend

    “W North

    “Sunday 22d I thought that He perhaps had as you conjectured some girl in View, but that it appears was not the point, my farmer when He returned last evening said that George told him that if I would give him $10 a month, He would return & do what I wished Which shews that His whole drift has been to get more money than He agreed for. I am so sick of servants that could I sell, I would go a lodging for the rest of my life. Thornton got here 12 April & went away the 21, & was of very little service while He was here. I beg you to believe that I followed your advice & at the same time my own inclination in speaking & acting temperately & even kindly by this fellow, never an harsh word, or found fault with him. He asked no money to carry him back, & if He had, I would not have given him any. He richly deserves that I should put the bond in force agt him, but I will not. He deserves to be made to refund what has been paid to him but whether it is refunded or not, I thank you for paying it, & that you did not pay the $20 which He wished "that He might travel like a Gentleman" I am Dr Sir

    “Your Obt Servt W North

    “The spring is cold & backward, I am blowing rocks making rock fences, & laying down my land to grass as fast as I can, so that when you come here you having sold your own, may be tempted to buy my house & Become the Prince of Waterford, as Judge Perkins son Tom, is the Duke, in 3 years you would be governor of the State, which I should like to see How comes on the settlement of the Estate? They are amicable & kind to each other said I. Did they ever decide on Estate 3 Harry Glen.”

    WILLIAM NORTH (1755-1836) was born in Bristol, Maine, to Captain John North and Elizabeth Pitson North. His father was lieutenant commander of Fort Frederick in Bristol from 1744 to 1756 and commanded Fort St. George in Maine from 1756 to 1763. After his father died in 1763, North moved to Boston, Massachusetts, with his mother. He attended Boston Latin School from 1764 to 1770 and worked in a merchant’s office. He joined the Continental Army in 1775 and served under Benedict Arnold’s disastrous expedition to Canada that year. In May 1777, he was commissioned as a captain in the 16th Massachusetts Regiment, with which he participated in the Battle of Monmouth. In 1779, he became an aide-de-camp to Baron von Steuben. He accompanied von Steuben to Virginia and was present at the surrender of Cornwallis in October 1781.

    North was appointed as Inspector of the Troops under General Henry Knox in 1784. After the war, he settled in Duanesburg, New York, where he married Mary Duane (1762-1813) in October 1787, and they had six children. From 1798 to 1800, North served as adjutant general, assistant inspector general, and chief of staff to General Alexander Hamilton. Baron von Steuben formally adopted North and fellow aide-de-camp Benjamin Walker and made them his heirs. North represented Albany County in the New York State Assembly in 1792, 1794, and 1794, Albany and Schenectady counties in 1796, and Schenectady County in 1810. He served as speaker of the New York State Assembly in 1794, 1796, and 1810. He was appointed as a Federalist to the United States Senate to fill a vacancy and served from May to August 1798. He also served on the first Erie Canal Commission from 1810 to 1816.

    BENJAMIN M. MUMFORD (1772-1843) was born in Groton, Connecticut, and graduated from Yale College in 1790. He married Harriet Bowers (1782-1868) in Duanesburg, New York, in 1802, and they had ten children. He was a merchant and later an insurance broker in New York City, where he commenced business in 1793. In 1805, he owned the schooner Orestes and had an office in the Tontine Coffee House. That year, he was one of the founders of the New England Society of New York. From 1806 to 1811, he held a commission as a major in the state militia. After the end of the War of 1812, he moved with his family to Schenectady, New York, where he engaged in business until his death.

    Expected folds; hole and repaired tear from opening seal, not affecting text; stain on fourth page; two small holes on third page.

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