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The Lady Washington Galley.

The Lady Washington Galley


    Early in the progress of the Revolutionary conflict it was evident that the line of Lake Champlain and the Hudson river would be the arena of the struggle between the colonies and Great Britain. The problem of the defense of the river was the pressing one. The Hudson being navigable for the war vessels of that day as far as Albany, practically, the need of armed vessels on the side of the patriots was indisputable. They had to be built on the banks of the stream above the Highlands. Poughkeepsie was selected as the place of the shipyard.
    It was decided to obstruct the river in every way. Heavy iron chains, buoyed upon logs, were placed across the river; fire strips were purchased at Saugerties and elsewhere and vessels to be armed with cannon were built. The approach of the British fleet under General Vaughan was noticed during the evening of


Olde Ulster

October 15th, 1777. It consisted of something more than thirty sail and anchored off Esopus island for the night. Early the next morning it weighed anchor and sailed up to the mouth of the Rondout creek and came to between this spot and Columbus (now Kingston) Point. Two batteries had been erected on the high ground above Ponckhockie in which had been mounted five light pieces of cannon. In the creek was lying a long galley armed with a thirty-two pounder. This galley was named the Lady Washington. Farther in the creek were some sloops and the vessels constituting what was known as "The Fleet Prison," which was the place of detention for disloyal and unsafe men in the eyes of the patriots. It has never been definitely stated what the force under Vaughan amounted to but Colonel George W. Pratt, who minutely and thoroughly examined the records, says that the British troops with the fleet on this occasion did not number over sixteen hundred men.
    One division of these, containing about four hundred men, immediately disembarked at Ponckhockie. Meanwhile the Lady Washington galley with her single gun vigorously disputed the approach of the enemy and the two batteries on the bluff lent their assistance. These little defenders could not do much aside from entering an emphatic protest against attacking a defenseless village. To lend assistance there were but one hundred and fifty militia, either boys under sixteen or men too old to be sent with Governor and General George Clinton to defend the Highlands or to reinforce Gates at Saratoga. It did not take long to decide such a contest. The five light


The Lady Washington Galley

cannon, with the thirty-two pounder on the galley, were quickly silenced. Sailors from the British fleet soon boarded the vessels of the Fleet Prison and set them on fire. The sloops in the creek soon became like victims. In some way one of the British storeships, the Defender, blew up and a number of the crew were injured. It gave time for the crew of the Lady Washington galley to man the oars and make their escape. They pulled up the creek with swift and heavy stroke, pursued by boats from the British vessels in eager chase. It is three miles up stream to the falls at Eddyville and they felt sure of making it. But the boats of the fleet, lighter and better manned, rapidly gained upon the galley. As soon as it was found that the Lady Washington could not escape, its crew scuttled it and it sank near Eddyville. The pursuers, finding that the galley was beyond their reach, landed at South Rondout and set fire to and burned the house of Wilhelmus Houghteling, Jr.
    It is aside from our present intention to describe the burning of Kingston during that October afternoon. OLDE ULSTER has republished the account of that wanton vandalism as written by the pen of Colonel George W. Pratt. We confine this account to the further story of the Lady Washington galley.
    The Legislature of New York had adjourned and left plenipotentiary powers in the Council of Safety, again constituted. The destruction of Kingston drove the Council to seek another home. It first went to Marbletown and convened in the house of Andrew Oliver. On the 14th of November, 1777, it removed to the house of Captain Jan Van Deusen in Old


Olde Ulster

Hurley. Three days before this Colonel Levi Pawling brought to its attention the matter of the sunken galley. The entry in the minutes is this:

    Nov. 11, 1777.--Colonel Pawling laid before the Council a letter from His Excellency the Governor, dated at Newbergh, the sixth instant, whereby His Excellency desires Colonel Pawling and Colonel Snyder to furnish out of their regiments, twenty men to assist in raising the Continental row galley which lies sunk in the Rondout creek. Colonels Pawling and Snyder informed the Council that the militiamen by them ordered out for the purpose, complain of the service as being not properly militia duty, unless they be allowed extra pay for their services.

    The same being taken into consideration,

    Resolved, That the militia employed in raising the said Continental row galley ought to be allowed (exclusive of rations) eight shillings per day, and that the Colonels Pawling and Snyder, be authorized to promise them pay at that rate.

    On Monday, December 1st, the record upon the journals of the Council of Safety sets forth that

    Capt. Abraham Lewis informed the Council that he had used his utmost endeavors to raise the Continental galley, named Lady Washington, now sunk in the Roundout Kill, and that his attempts have proved unsuccessful.
    The Council thereupon directed him to make report thereof to His Excellency the Governor,


The Name of Katskill or Kaaterskill

    Ordered, That the men belonging to the vessel commanded by Capt. Benson, who have been employed in attempting to raise the said galley proceed with Capt. Lewis to New Windsor.

    Among the papers of the late Samuel D. Coykendall is the original order from the Council of Safety discontinuing the attempt to raise the galley, and ordering the men in charge to proceed to New Windsor. The order is as follows:

    In Council of Safety for the State of New York
    Hurley-December 1st 1777
    Captain Abraham Lewis informed the Council that he had used his utmost Endeavours to raise the Continental Galley named Lady Washington. now sunk in the Roundout Kill, and that his attempts have proved unsuccessful--The Council directed him to make report thereof to his Excellency the Governor--And ordered that the Men belonging to the Vefsel commanded by Captain Benson (who have been employed in attempting to raise the said Galley) proceed with Captain Lewis to New Windsor.
    Extract from the Minutes
    John McKefson Secry--



Unknown, (Benjamin Myer Brink?) "The Lady Washington Galley" Olde Ulster Magazine, Vol. IX., No. 10 (October, 1913): pp. 305-309.

Created September 26, 2003; Revised September 26, 2003
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