Lot of the Refugee (1776-9)
Reception of the American Loyalists by Great Britain in the Year 1783.
London, July 4 - Arrived at the New England coffee-house, Threadneedle Street, at 7 o’clock P.M. — July 5. Met my townsman and friend Benjamin Pickman, which rejoiced me. We walked to Westminster Hall, in Chancery saw Sir Thomas Sewell, master of the rolls, sitting with his hat on. At [the Court of] Common Pleas saw Judge Blackstone and Sergeant Glynn, and the [the Court of the] King’s Bench, Lord Mansfield and Mr. Sergeant Wedderburne. Lord Mansfield’s manner is like the late judge Dudley’s of Massachusetts. His peering eyes denote a penetration and comprehension peculiarly his own. Mr. Wedderburne spoke, but at no great length.
July 9, 1775. Went to Old Jewry meeting-house where I met Gov. Hutchinson, his son and daughter. A cordial reception and invitation to visit him. Mr. Isaac Smith and Mr. Deberdt sat in the pew next me.
January 1, 1776. May the events of the following year, however unfavorable to the pride of my heart, be productive of more moral improvement than the last.
April 1, A. M. At Gov. Hutchinson’s; he was alone, reading a new pamphlet entitled “An Inquiry whether Great Britain or America is most in fault”. I accepted an invitation to return to dinner. Taking leave for the present, I departed, walking through the palace and park to Mr. Bliss’s lodgings where I met Judge Sewall, Mr. Oxnard, and Mr. Smith. Returned to the governor’s, with whom only young Oliver and myself dined. From thence in passing through Leicester Square, I called in at Mr. Copley’s to see Mr. Clarke and the family, who kindly pressed my staying to tea.
May 7. Attempted to get into Drury Lane Theatre to see Mr. Garrick in the character of Archer, but the crowd so great that after suffering thumps, squeezes, and almost suffocation for two hours I was obliged to retire without effecting it. Went to Mr. Silsbee’s lodgings to tea.
June 6. London, my favorite place of abode, is, as the peasant said, “a sad lickpenny" and truly one cannot breathe the vital air without great expense. The numerous applications to the treasury by Americans whose pretensions are so much beyond mine exclude the most distant hope of relief for me, should inadvertence or more unjustifiable principles of conduct reduce me to the necessity of asking a favor. Which I am determined at all events to defer to the longest period.
June 10. I find my finances so visibly lessening that I wish I could remove from this expensive country (being heartily tired of it). And old as I am, would gladly enter into a business connection anywhere consistently with decency and integrity, which I would fain preserve. The use of the property I left behind me I fear I shall never be the better for. Little did I expect from affluence to be reduced to such rigid economy as prudence now exacts. To beg is a meanness I wish never to be reduced to and to starve is stupid. One comfort: as I am fast declining into the vale of life, my miseries cannot probably be of long continuance.
Oct. 31. By a letter from Mr. Danforth I was informed some of my countrymen were about to apply to the administration for relief. As my residence has been much longer than the most and the suddenness of my departure from home rendering it morally impossible for me to become possessed of much money and my pretensions for aught I know being as good as any and better than many, I presume I shall not be the only exile left in a forlorn condition if any provision be made. And if never made, forlorn I shall truly be, my finances every day very sensibly lessening. Had I received Mr. Deberdt's letter in time I should have returned to London, but it was otherwise. And if my presence now can be dispensed with, it will be more agreeable, as I live pleasantly enough among a few acquaintances at the rate of twenty guineas a year in a state of rigid economy that I never before was reduced to the necessity of putting in practice.
Dec. 31. My little bark is in imminent hazard of being stranded unless the wind shifts quickly or some friendly boat appears for its relief. In plain English, my purse is nearly empty. Which circumstance has of late frequently reminded me of an emblematical device in the beginning of Fuller’s History of the Holy Wars. Wherein on the right is a purse distended with gold and standing upright; on the left the same turned upside down, in a lank condition, emptied wholly of its contents. With these words under the former, ‘‘we went out full” and under the latter, “we returned empty.” I do not know but I am departed from my country, family, and friends on as foolish and fantastic grounds as the misguided devotees of that time did to rescue the Holy Land from infidels. Though on opposite principles, I confess: they to fight, I to avoid fighting. I now begin to tremble lest the same fate awaits me that befell them. I dislike the motives of the chief agents in America and their whole system from its first small beginnings to its full monstrous growth of independency. And I trust from a very just motive, love of my country, which this place I am convinced has no tendency to promote the welfare of. But what of that? It is my duty and sure the state is not to reward the loyalty of every subject. The court in this case would have more than enough to do to satisfy the demands of all claimants. I cannot foresee what I may hereafter do, but easily that I must suffer hunger and nakedness in the comfortless mansions of the wretched. These ideas I have not been accustomed to associate.
Exeter, March 7 . I received a letter from London informing me of my wife’s health and welfare in November last and that she had been obliged to pay ten pounds sterling to find a man for the American army in my stead.
March 10. Walked out to Judge Sewall’s, he having the day before engaged to accompany me to the Treasury where after a compliment I received information of a hundred pounds down and a hundred per annum during the troubles in America, which I esteem as a providential provision procured by the friendship of my respected friend Judge Sewall. I received an order on the bank. Accompanied by him and Mr. Thomas Danforth, I took a note at the cashier’s office for seventy pounds payable to myself on demand and thirty pounds in cash. Departing very joyous and I hope grateful to that Being who has, by friends, been pleased in the midst of gloomy prospects to set my feet on firm ground and establish my goings. May I wisely improve this gracious indulgence.
Dec. 31. The lenity shown to General Burgoyne and his army is allowed on all hands to do more honor to America than the laurels reaped by the Howes can bring to this distracted country. God knows what is for the best, but I fear our perpetual banishment from America is written in the book of fate. Nothing but the hopes of once more revisiting my native soil, enjoying my old friends within my own little domain has hitherto supported my drooping courage. But that prop taken away leaves me in a condition too distressing to think of. However, amidst the increasing evils of old age I have this consolation that mortifying as my lot is, severe as my sufferings may be, their continuance cannot be lasting.
Exeter, Sept. 6 . Am informed that I am suspected to be an American spy, disaffected to government. This was reported by one Calhier, a violent hater of the inhabitants of the American continent and of all its friends and well-wishers. His malice I despise and his power to injure me with government I defy. Exeter has become the seat of scandal, pride, inhospitality, foppery.
Source: Samuel Curwen, Journal and Letters (edited by George Atkinson Ward, 1842), 30-221. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.45494/page/n501/mode/2up