Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Featured Manuscript: Stirke Diary

Connecting History Series

Volunteer researcher, Cynthia N., heads off this series by examining the diary of Lt. Henry Stirke and his connection to several fascinating historical events.

Ivory portrait of Lt. Stirke



The Rare Books Collection of Morristown National Historical Park has in its collection a Revolutionary War Diary, written by British Lieutenant Henry Stirke during his assignment with the 10th Regiment of Foot, from 1776-1778.

The diary begins with his journey from Halifax to New York in June of 1776, and ends with his departure to Cork, Ireland, from New York in 1778. The diary covers his experiences at the Battle of Long Island, and all the engagements as the British followed General George Washington across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.

On October 23, 1777, Lt. Stirke made the following entry in his journal:

“This day we had the additional misfortune of loosing the Augusta Man of War of 64 Guns, which took fire by accident, as she had just got to her station before the Rebel works; most of the Crew were Sav’d”.
Excerpt from Stirke's Oct 23, 1777 entry.

In October, 1777, the British fleet was sailing up the Delaware River to attack Fort Mifflin at Philadelphia. According to the American account, the Americans repulsed the attack by the Augusta and 5 other ships. The Augusta blew up, whether by accident or as a result of being fired upon, is unknown. The engagement was known as the Battle of Red Bank.

After the Augusta sank, its timbers remained in place until 1869, when the ship was salvaged. There were hopes of finding a strong-box containing gold. The ship was taken to Gloucester City, New Jersey, and put on exhibit. After a period of time, only some of her ribs were visible.

The headquarters of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution is in Washington. D.C. In Memorial Continental Hall, one of the buildings in the complex, there are several period rooms, which are representative of some of the states, and are sponsored by the state societies, individually or as a group of states. New Jersey is the sole sponsor of the New Jersey Room. 

Miss Ellen Mecum, seventh State Regent of the New Jersey Daughters of the American Revolution (1905-1908) wanted to make the New Jersey Room unique. She selected a proposal to use the remaining timbers of the British Frigate Augusta to furnish the New Jersey Room. The Augusta was sunk in the Delaware River, close to the property of Miss Mecum’s great-grandmother, Ann Cooper Whitall. The plan proposed that the timbers be used to create a reconstruction of the paneled Jacobean chamber that housed the books of the Water Commission in London, England.

One of the armchairs is a copy of an original oak chair dating back to 1689, from the Treasurer’s House in York, England. The original chair is still in the Treasurer’s House today. The woodwork, paneling and all of the furniture in the room were all constructed from the remaining timbers of the Augusta.  The New Jersey Room was opened to the public in 1910.

There are three stained glass windows in the room, each of which is dedicated to a geographical district of New Jersey. Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown, the site of the winter encampment of 1779-1780, is one of the historical sites depicted in the window representing northern New Jersey.

It’s possible to take a virtual tour of the New Jersey Room at NSDAR Headquarters by accessing the following URL:

The sinking of the Augusta was a dreadful loss to the British during the Revolutionary War. However, the use of its timbers to furnish the New Jersey Room at DAR Headquarters is a permanent reminder for future generations of the courage and fortitude of all the American patriots who fought and struggled to secure our cherished liberties.

DAR New Jersey Room

Blog entry by volunteer researcher, Cynthia N.

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