A grisly account of the death of Captain Yates by a British soldier during the Battle of PrincetonRevolutionary War: William Vernon Jr. Autograph Letter Signed. Three pages, 6.25" x 7.5", Princeton, April 21, 1777. Vernon, a student living in Nassau Hall at Princeton, provides his father, William Vernon Sr. of Rhode Island, a rare Revolutionary War account with graphic details of the fatal wounding of an American officer at the Battle of Princeton. Captain Bartholemew Yates of the 1st Virginia Infantry, a student at William and Mary College, was shot six times and "stab'd . . . in Sixteen or Seventeen different places." Vernon writes, "you have doubtless ere' this heard of the inhumane cruelties and unheard of barbarities committed by them at the battle of Princeton upon the bodies of several of our Officers, particularly upon that of Capt. Yates of Virginia, who having received a musquet [sic] ball through both thighs, was unable to retreat when our small advanced party gave way. A British Soldier advanced snap[p]ed [misfired] his piece at him, it being uncharg'd he deliberately loaded while the above gentleman was upon his knees begging for mercy, and discharged at him. He then ran up and with his bayonet stab'd him in Sixteen or Seventeen different places most of which were slight. All his wounds amounted to three and twenty, six of which were bullet wounds; the above was related to me by the Surgeon who drest [sic] his wounds for nine days successively. Capt. Yates took his affidavit a day or two before his death of the manner in which he was treated by the aforesaid Soldier."
During the Battle of Princeton, Brigadier General Hugh Mercer's men were tasked with guarding the road to Trenton. While there, Mercer's force of 300, which included Captain Yates, met an equally sized British force commanded by Colonel Charles Mawhood. After firing at each other across an open field, Mawhood's men charged with affixed bayonets. During a fierce, though short, battle, Mercer was mortally wounded early and Yates was shot and bayoneted. When General Washington arrived with reinforcements, the British fled. But the battle didn't end until later when a group of British soldiers, barricaded in Nassau Hall, surrendered after receiving several rounds from Alexander Hamilton's artillery. Twenty-three Americans had been killed during the battle. Both Mercer and Yates were wounded with multiple wounds and both lived for several agonizing days. After the battle, the British evacuated New Jersey.
Prior to the Battle of Princeton (January 3, 1777), Vernon Jr. had fled the town for safety. According to the beginning of this letter, he had only recently returned to the college at Princeton and "was agreeably situated" with the distinguished Doctor John Witherspoon, who was the president of the college, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a delegate to the Continental Congress. In fact, Vernon closes this letter because Doctor Witherspoon was preparing to depart for Philadelphia ("Doct. Witherspoons departure for Philadelphia puts an end to my epistle"). The recipient of the letter, Vernon Sr., was a prosperous merchant and slave trader. Following the British invasion of his hometown of Newport, he had fled to Boston, where he was chosen by the Continental Congress to serve on the Eastern Navy Board. From the Papers of William Vernon.
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