“A damned old rebel, with one foot in the grave”: The Deposition of Elizabeth Covenhoven, Monmouth County, New Jersey, July 30, 1778

The lead elements of Sir Henry Clinton’s army trudged into the village of Monmouth Court House, New Jersey throughout the day on June 26, 1778. There, the British force remained until the morning of the 28th, when it continued onward toward the safety of New York City.

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Lt. Gen. Henry Clinton. New York Public Library Digital Collections. 

Upon arriving in the area during the afternoon of June 26, General Clinton established his headquarters just southwest of town along the Allentown Road in the home of Elizabeth and William Covenhoven. The sight of thousands of British and Hessian troops marching by the front of her property must have been spectacular, but terrifying, for the elderly Elizabeth, who was in her seventies and alone when the general and his military family arrived (her husband’s whereabouts are unknown). Fearful that her home, animals, and other possessions would be in danger, Mrs. Covenhoven begged Sir Henry to spare them. Very gentlemanly, he promised her, “on his honour that every thing she had should be protected and nothing injured.” Elizabeth was satisfied with the general’s promise.

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The Elizabeth and William Covenhoven House, Freehold, NJ

For the next two days, her home became the nerve center of the British army then making its way across New Jersey, and the personal quarters of the General in Chief of His Majesty’s Forces in North America. On June 28, as General George Washington’s pursuing Continental Army caught up with Clinton’s rearguard, the battle of Monmouth commenced, further scarring the surrounding landscape. Everything had changed for those who lived in the tiny courthouse village. Some were spared the hard hand of war, but others, including Elizabeth, suffered greatly. A little over a month later, she delivered her deposition to the court reagrding her experiences during the British occupation of present-day Freehold:

Trenton, August 12, 1778

Be it remembered, that on the 30th day of July, Anno Domini 1778, personally appeared before me, Peter Schenck, one of the Justices of Peace for the County of Monmouth, Mrs. Elizabeth Covenhoven, who being duly sworn on the Holy Evangelists of Almighty God, deposeth and saith, That on the 26th of June last, when the enemy came into that county, General Sir Henry Clinton, with his suite, made his quarters at her house, and promised on his honour that every thing she had should be protected and nothing injured; That some time after they had been there, she saw a soldier driving her horses away, upon which she applied to them to perform their promises, and one of the General’s Aids said she should be paid for them; she answered she could not spare them; he then took down the marks, and declared they should be returned; but she heard no more of them. Some little time after she perceived all her cattle, including her milk cows, driving by in the same manner; she then made a like application and said, the must go without milk themselves if their cows were taken away; they then gave orders to have them stopped; but before they went off they killed and took every one of them, not leaving her a single hoof. This deponent further saith, That the General and his Aids finding her furniture chiefly sent away, were exceedingly urgent to have them sent for, declaring it likely they would be destroyed where they were concealed, but if they were in the house they should be safe; she told them she had no way to send for them; upon which they ordered a wagon and guard to go with the Negro wench to bring the goods, and they brought one wagon load home and placed a guard over it, and refused absolutely suffering her to have any thing out of it; That the next morning she found almost every thing of value was taken out of the wagon, and only a bible and some books, with a few trifles, left, which were scattered on the ground; she then applied to the General himself to have liberty to take these few things his Honour had left her—he ordered one of his Aids to go to the guards and suffer her to have them—she followed him, and he said, here you damned old rebel, with one foot in the grave, take them. This deponent also saith, That, though a very old woman, she was obliged to sleep on a cellar door in her milk room for two nights, and when she applied for only a coverlet it was refused her; That by the time they went away her house was stripped of her beds, bedding, the cloaths of her whole family, and every thing of any value. The farm was also left in the same situation; and that at a moderate computation, her loss amounted to 3000 £. And that she lost this in trusting to the personal honour of Sir Henry Clinton, which threw her off her guard, and made her perfectly easy, having solemnly engaged to protect or pay for every thing they used; and this deponent declares that the sum of 5£. 2s. which one of the officers gave her for 50 pounds of butter he had, was all the money or satisfaction she received for any thing she lost. And further saith not.[1]

 

For more information on the home of my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, William and Elizabeth Covenhoven, please visit: https://www.monmouthhistory.org/covenhoven-house. The house is preserved by the Monmouth County Historical Association and is open to the public for tours and living history programs.

[1] “Deposition of Elizabeth Covenhoven, taken July 30, 1778 (thirty-two days after the Battle of Monmouth)” New Jersey Gazette Vol. 1, No. 36, August 12, 1778.

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1 Response to “A damned old rebel, with one foot in the grave”: The Deposition of Elizabeth Covenhoven, Monmouth County, New Jersey, July 30, 1778

  1. Pingback: History after a Pandemic | Emerging Revolutionary War Era

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