On the Homefront supporting the Patriot Cause
It may sometimes appear from the personal accounts of the American Revolution that no one escaped the war’s violence. Yet a great number of people never witnessed a Revolutionary War battle or observed troops marching through their town. In parts of the country, soldiers of the major field armies and members of the Patriot and Loyalist militias remained faceless participants in newspaper accounts, actors in a distant drama being played out at a safe distance. Samuel Lane of Stratham, New Hampshire, may be counted as among those fortunate enough to live out of harm’s way. Samuel never witnessed a gun fired on enemy formations, but his wartime experiences would be familiar to anyone remaining “on the homefront” in World War II. Already fifty-seven when British Regulars opened fire on Massachusetts farmers at the Battle of Lexington, Samuel was too old to enter military service. Instead, he spent the war battling against wildly fluctuating prices and uncertain food supplies. For Samuel the war became one in which he kept one eye on the news about battles he would never see, and the other on how he could support the Patriot cause and still be able to make it through the next year.
Born in Hampton, New Hampshire, on October 17, 1718, Samuel was the son of Deacon Lane, a tanner and shoemaker. Samuel learned the leather tanning craft from his father, and when he was eighteen, he learned to “cypher and survey” at a local school. Samuel was thus able to supplement his tanning income with surveying and land acquisitions. Although farming never occupied his primary attention, he became moderately successful in raising wheat, corn, and hay for market. In 1741, at the age of twenty-three, Samuel settled in the town of Stratham, New Hampshire and married Mary James. The couple raised eight children together before Mary’s death in 1769. Throughout his life, Samuel served as a Justice of the Peace for the county, Town Clerk for Stratham, and as a Town Selectman in the New Hampshire’s colonial assembly. On June 22, 1774, five years after Mary’s death, Samuel doubled the size of his family by marrying the widow Rachel Colcord, a mother of seven. Samuel’s connection to the Colcord family cemented his position among the leading men of the town, and, in 1775, he represented Stratham at the New Hampshire Congress in Exeter.
Samuel understood that as a result of “the great Tumults about the Duty on Tea, Sent here by ye E[ast] India Company, 342 Chests of it being thrown into the Sea at Boston,” that “the Port of Boston is Shut up.” The British Parliament’s closure of Boston harbor was especially disconcerting to residents of New Hampshire. If the same were to happen to Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s only port, then Samuel’s entire colony would be cut off from the world. Because of this threat, turning against king and crown was difficult for Samuel. Samuel saw the Revolution, not as a colonial rebellion, but as a “most unnatural civil war,” which placed the colonies “in the Utmost Confusion and Distress, and not knowing what to do.” Having spent more than fifty years as a loyal British subject, Samuel found the conflict hard to accept. Having spent those same fifty years living in New Hampshire, however, persuaded Samuel in 1775 to stand with his neighbors. In 1776 he signed the colony’s Association Test Oath, which stated “We the subscribers do hereby solemnly engage and promise, that we will . . . oppose the hostile proceedings of the British fleets, and armies against the United American colonies.”
The opening year of the conflict proved of little consequence to the daily life of Stratham. Samuel reported in his journal that the winter of 1774 was “favourable,” and that the summer was “fruitful.” The situation in New Hampshire changed as the war started in Massachusetts. After hostilities began “on the Memorable 19th of Apr[il] 1775, in a Battle at Lexington. Every place on the Sea Coasts [placed] themselves in the Best Posture of Defence.”‘ After the British burned the town of Falmouth, New Hampshire in October 1775, Samuel feared that they would soon turn inland. He expected “to Share the Same fate” as those in Falmouth “verry Soon.” Fortunately, the British demonstrated little interest in attacking upstate New Hampshire, turning their attention first to defending Quebec and then occupying New York City. Furthermore, the war had yet to significantly disrupt the economy. Food and supplies proved plentiful in 1774, and despite an “early drought” in 1775, Samuel harvested a “good crop of Indian Corn,” and a “Short Crop of English Corn & Hay.”
The need to finance the war effort forced many states, as well as the Continental Congress, to issue massive amounts of paper currency beginning in 1776. As Continental Dollars flooded into the American economy, prices skyrocketed and the value of Patriot currencies plummeted. By 1777, the situation required immediate attention from Congress, which devised a scheme to fix prices on certain important staple commodities. Samuel commented that “little or no Notice was taken of the Act . . . and within a few Months Corn was sold for 3 or 4 Dollars p[e]r Bushel.” Price inflation was even more dramatic in other commodities. Samuel reported rum selling at ten dollars a gallon, and molasses selling at forty dollars a gallon. During the ten to fifteen years before the Revolution, prices in New Hampshire had remained almost unchanged, or had declined slightly. Samuel noted that a pair of men’s shoes cost £7 in 1761 and just £6 in 1769, with little fluctuation in the intervening years. The chaos of skyrocketing prices proved bewildering to Americans, and with “Every thing at Such a Rate, & Altering & rising so fast,” Samuel observed that people “know not how to trade.”
Samuel dealt with the economic uncertainty in two ways. First, he relied upon what he knew, his tanning craft. Throughout the war, at times with the help of his son Joshua, he maintained a regular trade in tanning. In 1774, he tanned six hides and sixteen calfskins. In 1776, he increased his business to eight and a half hides and eighteen calfskins. By 1777, perhaps as a result of reaching his sixtieth birthday, Samuel began complaining of his “strength failing,” and “much husbandry work” taking away his time and energy. He completed only nine hides and four calfskins that year. In the latter years of the war, however, Samuel must have found renewed strength, and his tanning exceeded its previous levels. In 1779 he tanned eight and a half hides and sixteen calf skins, and in 1780, another eight hides and twenty-six calfskins. By 1782 he reached his personal best, tanning twenty-two and a half hides and twenty-seven calfskins.
Samuel also fought against the economic distress by using his Yankee ingenuity. Concluding that “’tis more proffit to lay Still, than to work up our Stock,” he tightened his belt and refused to panic. In 1778, with “the War Still Continuing & Money Depreciating verry fast [which] makes times verry difficult,” corn began selling for as much as fifty dollars a bushel. It remained that high in 1779 and 1780, while the price of rum soared to an unprecedented eighty dollars a gallon. Samuel, when he could, kept the price of his grain low. In 1778 he had “a good Crop of Corn” which he sold at just six dollars a bushel. Too often however, drought would “Cut off almost all our Summer Grain,” and Samuel would be unable to help alleviate the developing crisis. He lamented in 1779 that “Some have Died of Want,” but there seemed very little that he could do. Peace arrived just in time to avert catastrophe in New Hampshire, as successive droughts in 1781 and 1782 threatened to produce widespread starvation. Elated by the news, Samuel commented that “a Happy Peace between Great Brittain and America takes place, after 8 years of Civil War.”
Unlike most other Americans, Samuel managed through the Revolution without it changing his life very considerably. His Yankee perseverance allowed him to avoid the catastrophes which befell so many families during the troubled economy of the late 1770s and early 1780s. He enjoyed watching his family grow and prosper after the conclusion of the war, and he continued his tanning business in Stratham. He maintained his journal of daily events until 1803, and died three years later in 1806, at the age of eighty-seven.
Primary Source Documents: Samuel Lane
The following passages are taken from Charles Lane Hanson, A Journal for the Years 1739-1803 by Samuel Lane of Stratham, New Hampshire, (Concord, N.H.: New Hampshire Historical Society, 1937). Lane appears to have dated important events in his journal based on when they occurred, rather than when he learned of them. He also made summary, or digest, entries which compile major events of the previous season or month.
Sept. 1774. a Congress of Deligates from all the American Colonies is held at Philadelphia to Consult on Measures for the Publick good, in this Difficult Day.
Oct 17th 1774. I Enter’d the 57th year of my Age. This year Son Joshua Tans with me, & I have but 6 Hides & 16 Skins of my own to tan.
Samuel describes the Revolution as a “Civil War,” and how such a conflict effects daily life in Stratham.
Note. 1775. this Spring comes on a Civil War, and the most Difficult times ever known in this Age: the Course of Law & Courts of Justice are Stop’d and almost all Publick affairs are carried out on & transacted by Congresses & Committees, throu’ the most of this Continent.
April 19, 1775. a Number of Regular Troops began Hostilities at Lexington & Concord; Kill’d 8 or 10, of the People of those Towns, in the Battle, & Wounded Many more: also Kill’d & Wounded many other Towns in their Retreat: this Allaram’d [alarmed] the whole Continent; and a larg[e] Army was Soon Rais’d & Sent to Cambridge for the defense of these Colonies.
May 17, 1775. I went on the Congresses at Exeter; which Continued 6 Months by Adjournments.
June 1775. we had a verry Distressing Drought having had scarcely Any rain this Spring & a famine was greatly feared.
Oct 17, 1775. I Enter’d ye 58 year of my Age. which I forgot to put down as Usual.
Oct. 19, 1775. the Regulars [British] Burnt the Town of Falmouth [N.H.] . . . upon which the People of Portsmouth Remov’d into the Country at a Vast Expence: Expecting to Share the Same fate verry Soon: & the Province immediately in great Numbers, went to Building fortifications in the Harbour of Portsmouth.
July 4th, 1776. The Grand Congress at Philadelphia Declar’d the 13 United Colonies to be Independent States.
Octr. 17th 1776. I Enter’d the 59th year of my Age. Son Joshua tans with me, I had but 84 Hides & 18 Calf skins.
In the summer of 1777, the British captured both Fort Ticonderoga in upper New York State, and General William Howe’s army moved against Philadelphia. The British did not take formal control of the city until after the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777. Following these American defeats, the Continental Dollar began experiencing inflation that reduced its value. Prices of basic commodities soared in 1777, and remained high for the rest of the war.
July 5, 1777 . . . Sometime this Summer the Regulars [British] took Possession of Philedelphia and also of Ticonderaoga: and in oct. we took Burgoins [Burgoyne’s] Army.
. . This year has been Remarkable for the Sinking of the Vallue of our Paper Currency, which has been Made in great Quantities, for Carrying on the War, both by the Congress, & the States; & much Counterfeit.
The beginning of this year 1777, a regulating Act was pass’d, Setting [the price of] Corn . . . Notwithstanding little or no Notice was taken of the Act, but little while: and within a few Months Corn was Sold 3 or 4 Dollars p[e]r Bushel. Rum 10 Dollars (& Some More) p[e]r Gallon. Mollasses 40 [dollar]s p[e]r Gallon. Sugar 4 [dollar]s p[e]r lb . . . and Every thing at Such a Rate, & Altering & rising so fast, that we know not how to trade: & ’tis more proffit to lay Still, than to work up our Stock.
Syder [Cider] is verry Plenty this fall, Sold at 6 Dollars p[e]r Barrel.
Oct 17, 1777. I Enter’d the 60th year of my Age. This year Son Joshua Tans in his own yard, & I having but little help, & much Husbandry work to do, & Strength failing I tan but little, only 9 Hides & 4 Calfskins.
June 7, 1778. My Money Stole out of my Desk, being about 280 Continental Dollars & the Vallue of 70 Dollars in hard Money.
Aug 20 . Sold a Yoke of Steers, Coming in 4 [two pairs of steers with harnesses], for 200 Dol[lar]s to Gid[eo]n Colcord.
This Summer many People are Distress’d for Corn, being Scarce & Dear. Some sold for 5, 6, 8, & Some Say 10 Dollars p[e]r Bushel and Many Can’t get it; & are obliged to live without.
1778. This fall Syder [Cider] is Extreem Scarce through the Country: I Sold 2 Barrels in the Winter to Jona[tha]n Clark for 60 Dollars.
The War Still Continuing & Money Depreciating verry fast makes the times verry Difficult.
Whereas on the 7th Day of April last, the Training Soldiers, together with the Alarm List, being Met together at the Meeting House, in order to procure a Number of Men to Engage in the Continental Army &c. – they Voted “that every Person in this Town that had done Duty in the present War, either by himself or by his Money, Shall have a Reasonable Allowance for the Same, by a Committee to be Chosen for that purpose: and that the Same be done as near as may be, in Such a Manner, as that Every Person may be Set on a Level, as to what he had done before that time: and for the future to proceed in a way of Town Tax, to Raise Money to hire Men that were wanting for three years in the Army.”
. . . Therefore Said Committee, hereby Notifie [notify] all Concern’d . . . to consider on the Legality of that Affair; and Consult and Act what may the be Judged proper.
Stratham Feb. 5th 1778
Simon Wiggin Benja[mi]n Barker Daniel Clark
Jona[tha]n Robinson Sam[ue]l Lane
Oct. 17th 1778. I Enter’d the 61st year of my Age. This year I Tan only 4 Hides & 11 Calfskins.
our Paper Currency Sinks more & more every year to an Amazing Degree.
we have a good Crop of Corn this fall; and ’tis Sold at 6 Dol[lar]s a Bushel: and that is much higher in proportion than other things are generally Sold at. But Corn soon gets to 8, 10, 20, 30, and Some to 40 or 50 Dollars a Bushel, and Sticking at no price if the Starving b[u]yer co’d [could] get it
1779. This Summer Provisions have been Extreemly Scarce and Dear throu’ the Country, and many have Suffer’d Extreemly, & tis Said Some have Died for want.
1779. our Paper Money Continues to Depreciate in a Remarkable Manner, notwithstanding much pains has been taken by Conventions-of the States, to prevent it, by Stipulating prices to almost every Article; & endeavoring to oblige people to Stand by them, by Publishing the Names of those that refused to Sell by the Stipulated prices; but all proved in vain, for then people wo’d [would] not Sell what they had. . .
1780. Provisions pretty plenty, Corn Especially; being Sold for 50 Dollars a Bushel. Beaf [beef] 4 or 5 Dollars p[e]r lb. Butter 12 Dollars, Cheese 8 Dollars p[e]r lb. Paper Money in the latter part of the year, passes verry Current & is verry Scarce. [West India] goods plenty & Cheap, Rum about 80 Dollars a Gallon. Molasses about 50. Sugar 8 Dollars p[e]r lb &c. Abundance of Syder [Cider] this fall.
Dec 19, 1780. Son Joshua[‘]s Son Abraham Died. Note. the Latter End of the year 1780, & begin[n]ing of 1781 Paper Money was in as good Credit as Silver; (the common Exchange being about 75 paper for 1 Silver Dollar; and in many Sorts of trading a paper Dol[la]r is Call’d equal to a Copper) . . . & every one trying to get all he co’d [could] of it, but in the month of May 1781, almost all at once, it fell away . . . to Nothing . . .
Oct. 17th 1781. I Enter’d 64 year of my Age. this year I taned [tanned] 10 Hides & 23 Calfskins.
On October 19, 1781, General Lord Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington after the Battle of Yorktown.
Oct 19, 1781. Cornwallis & his Army in Virginia Surrendred [surrendered] to General Washington & the French forces United.
1783. this Spring a Happy Peace between Great Brittain and America takes place, after 8 years Civil War.
For Further Reading:
Matthew Patten, The Diary of Matthew Patten of Bedford, N. H. (1903).
Jerald Brown, The Years of the Life of Samuel Lane, 1718-1806 (2000).