Disclaimer: The following is a piece of regrettably too clever satire, written for the amusement of my reenacting friends, that I can ruefully confirm is a tongue-in-cheek fabrication. There are a number of references in the body of the message and in the so-called Journal of Constant Belcher, starting with his name, that we hoped would be tip offs. We had no intention of creating a hoax and apologise to those who care deeply, as do we both, about this period and its scholarly research. We all dream about finding the real thing. This is not it, but if you will forgive us our tresspasses, Constant Belcher may yet return, ala his fictional inspirations Harry Flashman and Blackadder's Baldrick.
My friend and reenacting comrade in arms Larry Schmidt and I were deep in our research into the original color of the field of our regimental flag – he favors a minty green (which he claims is "refreshing"), while I am holding out for Jersey drab – when we made an extraordinary discovery. We recently visited the Spanktown Society of Friends in Carteret, New Jersey. We were ushered into a disused storeroom at the back of the building, the oldest part of this structure that Larry is convinced is all that remains of the historic Blazing Star Tavern from which you may recall Col. Ogden launched his raid against the loyalists on Staten Island in 1777.
We had come to view what we were told was an 18th century American haversack of soiled onsaberg linen on which someone had painted the shield of the 1st NJ in an early American primitive style. However, we could see right away that it was actually a grease stain that looked vaguely like a bearded man with undressed hair which is clearly not 18thcentury. While Larry is not unconvinced that it may in fact be a representation of Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, one of the colony's first royal governors who reputedly dressed in women's clothing to effect a likeness to his cousin, Queen Anne, I remain skeptical.
In any event, we were extremely disappointed to have followed another promising lead down a false trail, but then noticed a bundle of rags that at first we took for something even Adam Young of the 2nd NJ - the most ragged Continental of the them all - might refuse to wear, but which actually proved to be an old book wrapped in tow cloth. What we found inside literally blew our minds.
It appears to be a journal, in appallingly poor handwriting, written by an enlisted man in Colonel Ogden’s 1st New Jersey. As you all know, anything written by enlisted men is rare enough from this period. Aside from the 1776 diary of Timothy Tuttle, there is no other contemporary journal of its kind known from our regiment. While it is very difficult to decipher, appears to have been written in a variety of natural inks, and has many loose pages all out of order, Larry and I have made enough progress to be able to say with certainty that the author is one Constant Belcher of Elizabethtown and that he was for a period the waiter or batman of my own direct ancestor, Brigade Major Aaron Ogden, the brother of Colonel Matthias Ogden!
Like Ogden, Belcher is an old Elizabeth New Jersey name, and The Belcher-Ogden House in Elizabeth, also known as the Governor Jonathan Belcher Mansion, is another intriguing connection between these families. I had no idea that Maj. Ogden had a batman named Belcher, and never conceived that he might have left a journal of his experiences. Larry and I promptly made a $10 contribution to the Spanktown Yearly Meeting and they let us take the tow cloth and its contents.
We are now busily trying to decipher and transcribe the Journal of Constant Belcher and prepare it for scholarly publication. It is hard going, but each of us has taken sections and we will share the results with you as we have them. We have decided to omit the ligatures and archaic spellings of standard names and places, and to add punctuation where needed for clarity, but otherwise to leave the entries as Belcher wrote them. Because of my interest in Sullivan’s Staten Island Raid, I am delighted to be able to share with you now the relevant section from Belcher’s Journal:
“Aug 21st - We marcht to Blazing Star this day wair Colo. Ogden told us to leaf our Knapsacks - those that had them - taking only our musquets, cartouch pouches, Bayonets and market wallets to carry off lawful plunder. He must have meant us to wear our Small cloathes as well but made no Mention of them, and some in Capt. Conway’s and Capt. McMyer’s Cos. were reprimanded for appearing in ranks in naught but the clothes of Adam. Maj. Bloomfield told me to make a place for his horse in the boat for the crossing to Cuckoldstown. I gave it green pippins from his haversack so that it might ease our passage with a copious wind.
Augt. 22 – Colo. Ogden took command of our force, which was some militia and our Regiment and the 3rd regiment, as Col. Dayton thought it best not to be associated with any scheme of General Sullivan’s who is an addle pated Hector and like to get poor soldiers kilt. Thair was but 3 boats betwixt 500 men and we were near enough awash as we were a-going into Fresh Kills on the flood tide. I lost my shoes in the marsh but got another pair from the Greens after we took their camp. My share of the plunder come to 6 pair trousers, three regimentals of the 1st NJV, 8 cocked hats with white tape, a powder horn scrimshandered with some English Doxie in a shift with a helmet with a pair of lions, three Silver Pocket watches, some ladies stays in a Most pleasing Scarlet colour, some first quality sausages, and a Pickering’s Musquet tool. Colo. Ogden said we must take one of the Schooners that fell into our Hands and return to Elizabethtown with our prisoners and Plunder and I went aboard since it was Clear as day that we had not enuf boats for our own return if we had to be Hasty about it. Heard them firing up Island and was snugg back in Elizabethtown when Genl. Sullivan brought back his division except his rear Guard whot got left behind as I knew they would. Found my powder horn was filled with spirits and got drunk as a wheel barrow.”
I am so excited by this discovery. Larry and I feel it will absolutely change our understanding of the Revolution from the common man's perspective, and is sure to get a few noses out of joint on RevList. For one thing, we won't have to throw out our Pickering's Tools anymore as inauthentic!
(to be continued @ Constant Belcher's Blogge)