The Tracy Family History
Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne surrenders at Saratoga
The Barrack Troops left in November of 1780
I want to go back to the battle of Saratoga
for awhile because it is an interesting story. I told you before that this
battle was the turning point of the war, for here the Americans captured an
entire British army of over 5,000 men. This was in November of 1777, in New York
State. This victory would convince the French that the Americans had a chance to
win the war. Thus, the French committed themselves to the American cause.
Then Spain supported the French in their support of the Americans, although not openly. Later, Spain would declare war on England. That is the way it was done in those days.
I am sure our people were at Saratoga. However, that is not our story. What happened afterwards would affect our Woods and Wallace cousins.
The British commander, General Johnny Burgoyne, tricked the Americans with his surrender terms. The entire captured British army was to leave the Americas and never again take part in the war. Sounds good. Burgoyne realized all the British had to do was remove his army from the Americas and send them to another field of battle in the British Empire. Then, take another full army that this one replaced, and move it to America. It was a simple switcheroo.
When the Americans realized they had been taken they refused to release the prisoners. We now had a full army of prisoners on our hands.
The prisoners, known as the “Troops of the Convention,” were marched to now American-controlled Boston. They were to be held until they could be exchanged for British held American prisoners.
They remained in Boston for a year. Then the French fleet arrived and strained the local economy. It was decided to send these Convention Troops elsewhere. Where would they go?
They were marched for nearly three months, 628 miles in the dead of winter, to Albemarle County, Virginia. (For those of you who have not been on the East Coast, the winters can be really severe.) They went the usual route, through Woods Gap, into our land. They arrived in Albemarle County on 16 February 1779: 2,139 British; 2,022 Hessians; and 830 Canadians.
The enemy commander was busy keeping his soldiers alive with clothing, food, and housing. All in all, they weren't treated that badly.
The state's economy was in bad shape so the word went out to treat the prisoners and guards "very liberally and sumptuously supplied." They were given land to build their own city, which was even larger than Richmond. At least one enemy ship arrived under a flag of truce supplying the prisoners with basic necessities and even luxury items. With the provisions ships came "… a steady supply of specie (hard gold and silver currency) from Europe." The prisoners had nowhere else to spend the money except in the local economy. (This shows that our people were not stupid.) Strangely, the cost of supporting the captured army was paid for by the British army!
The prisoners, known as the “Barracks Troops,” were allowed their own gardens and livestock. It became a complete community, which even included its own bathhouse and theater. The officers were allowed freedom to go where they wanted in the Charlottesville area. They rented private quarters and the German commander even brought in his family.
The enemy officers were treated sumptuously by the locals, which would have included our people. They were wined and dined quite often by the philosophical governor, our friend and neighbor, Thomas Jefferson. The officers were even allowed passes to go to the famous mineral springs out West.
The officers quickly were assimilated into the local high society. Said Jefferson of the British commander, "The proudest man of the proudest nation on earth."
There were prisoner exchanges, paroles, massive desertions, and escapes, which would cut the population of the newly formed community in half. The average British and Hessian solider didn't care much for the British cause. They would desert to the Colonial frontier and intermarry with the local girls.
Many of the Hessians were drafted into the army in the following manner: Quote from a Hessian soldier: ”No one was safe from the grip of these sellers of souls, persuasion, cunning, deception, force–all served. Strangers of [all] kinds were arrested, imprisoned, sent off.” ...from The Hessians, by Edward J. Lowell.
In November 1780, just a few short weeks after the victory at Kings Mountain, the remaining "Barrack Troops" were sent back North where they were exchanged or paroled. The British and Hessian officers would never forget the kind treatment they received at the hands of their enemies.
We know not one story of our people and their relationship with the “Barracks Troops.” It is safe to assume that due to the social position of our people and how numerous they were by now, that we treated the soldiers and officers in the same manner as our good friend, Thomas Jefferson.
This home and large tract of land was owned by Colonel John Harvie. Through his influence as a member of the Continental Congress, and with the aid of Jefferson, he procured the establishment of the Prison camp for the Convention Troops upon his property.
Located NW of Charlottesville, (near our farms, I think), nothing remains today of the "Albemarle Barracks."
(North of Carter's Bridge)
Home of Mr. Henry Hyde
The British commander, General Philips, rented quarters here. In 1836, Andrew Stevenson, Congressman, Speaker of the House, and Minister to England, purchased Blenheim. It was his wife, Sally Coles of "Enniscorthy," who during their life in London presented two dozen Albemarle pippins (apples) to Queen Victoria, thus opening up the English market to this fruit, which at her majesties behest has long exempt from duty.
Not All Historians agree with this idyllic version of the barracks: Some say that... although the officers were treated more liberally, given passes to travel freely and allowed to purchase lodging in private homes within 100 miles, the average soldier would not fare so well. Their lodging and living conditions were miserable in "The Barracks."
For those of you who would like to know the
full story of the Convention Army and the Barracks there is an excellent 8 page
article in the 1972 issue of American Heritage Magazine. The title is "Gentleman Johnny's Wandering Army"
For a 1789 etching of the barracks go to
If you plan on visiting Charlottesville and would like to drive out to the original site of the barracks, directions can be found by going to
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