John Jay Papers

From John Jay to Susanna Philipse Robinson, 21 March 1777

To Susanna Philipse Robinson

Kingston, 21st: March 1777

Dear Madam

Mr. Robinson’s Letter directed to me as one of the late Committee at Fish Kills, was delivered to the Commissioners appointed for the like Purpose at the Place; from whom I have recieved a Copy of it.1 As I presume you cannot be unacquainted with its Contents, many Reasons conspire in persuading me to take the Liberty of troubling you with a few Remarks on that Subject.

Among the various Exertions of Power dictated by self Preservation in the Course of the present War, few give me more Pain than those which involve whole Families without Distinction of age or Sex in Calamity, & among the Number of Families threatened with these Calamities, permit me to assure you Madam that I feel for none more sensibly than for yours.

When your Friends reflect, that not only Mr. Robinsons Estate, but the Reputation & Influence he has justly acquired, would become the Inheritance of Children who promise to do Honor to their Parents, they can entertain few Ideas more painful, than those which arise from the Danger of your Family’s being deprived of Expectations so well founded & so valuable; and of a Ladys being subjected to all the anguish of misfortune & Disappointment, who hath so uniformly promoted the Happiness & Prosperity of others. Pardon my calling your Attention to Subjects so delicate, though interesting. Mr. Robinson has put his own & the Happiness of his Family & Posterity at Hazard—and for what? For the Sake of a fanciful Regard to an Ideal Obligation to a Prince, who on his Part disdains to be fettered by any obligations, a Prince who with his Parliament, arrogating the Attributes of Omnipotence, claim a Right to bind you & your Children in all Cases whatsoever. Persuaded that all former Oaths of Allegiance were dissolved by his usurpations, does he not daily attempt to bind the Inhabitants of this Country by new ones? If he deemed the former Oaths valid, why this Exaction of new Obligations of Allegiance?2

Can you on such Principles think of quitting a People who respect you, a Habitation & a Country which afford you every Necessary every Convenience? Remember that should you carry your numerous Family to New York Famine may meet you & incessant anxiety banish your Peace. The Fortune or Policy of War may induce or oblige your Protectors to remove from that Place to some other Part of the Continent, perhaps to Europe. Picture to your Imagination a City beseiged, yourself & Children mixt with contending Armies— Should it be evacuated, where, with whom & in what Manner are you next to fly? Can you think of living under the restless wings of an Army? Should Heaven determine that America shall be free, In what Country are you prepared to spend the Remainder of your Days & how provide for your Children? These Things it is true may not happen, but dont forget that they may— Admit they should not—suppose Heaven unjust, Britain victorious, & the Americans bound in all Cases whatsoever, will you ever Madam be able to reconcile yourself to the mortifying Reflection of being the Mother of Slaves? For who are Slaves but those, who in all Cases without Exception are bound to obey the uncontroulable Mandates of a Man—whether stiled King or called Peasant. Slaves Madam! can have no Property. They toil not for themselves, but live mere Pensioners on the Bounty of their Masters. & how contracted will be the Bounty of those Masters, who know but too well, that Poverty will be necessary to ensure Subjection.

For the Sake then of every Thing dear to you Madam be persuaded to prevail on Mr. Robinson to return, and advise him to take an open decisive Part with his Country. His Attention to Subjects in which Honor as well as Duty may be concerned merits Commendation; and I still flatter myself that the same Attention to Honor as well as Duty will yet render his Character as distinguished by an Attachment to the Interest and Rights of his Country, as it has hitherto been eminent for other Virtues. Be pleased to assure him that I shall always think myself happy in being useful to him in every occasion consistant with the Duties I owe to that important Cause, to which, after the most mature Consideration, I have chearfully devoted myself, Family and Fortune. I am my dear Madam with perfect Esteem & Respect Your Friend & obedt. Servt.

John Jay

ALS, UkLPR: AO 13 / 105 (EJ: 13173).

2In a proclamation dated 30 Nov. 1776, General Howe and Lord Howe prescribed an oath of allegiance to be taken within the next sixty days by all seeking pardon from the Crown. The following month, Governor William Tryon administered his own “oath of allegiance and fidelity” to Suffolk County militiamen, and in January 1777, Tryon began a campaign to administer the same oath to all the residents of British-occupied New York. By 11 Feb. 1777 5,600 citizens had taken Tryon’s oath in Manhattan, Staten Island, Long Island, and Westchester County. FAA, 5th ser., 3: 927–28; N.Y. Col. Docs., 8: 693–94, 696–97.

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