John Barr Prologue

John Barr's Diary


Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin


John Barr, the author of this diary, served as an ensign in the Fourth New York Regiment of the Continental Line. No record is found of his earlier life. But it is evident that he was unmarried, and that he made his home during the greater part of his period of service with the family of Joseph Pennoyer, in Amenia, Dutchess county, N. Y.

Barr’s diary covering the period June 17, 1779, to October 20, 1782, contains an account of his activities as an officer, and his course of travel while in the Continental Line. From Canajoharie, Barr’s regiment moved down the Susquehanna river to Tioga (Fort Sullivan), where it joined Sullivan’s army on the march northward. Barr was here detached to remain in the garrison of the fort. Of particular interest at this point in his journal is the included section of the Tallmadge Orderly Book giving an account of the western campaign. With the return of Sullivan’s forces to Tioga on September 30, 1779, the army continued down the Susquehanna to Easton, Pa. From Easton the March led into the Jerseys, and on December 5th, the army encamped at winter quarters, three miles west of Morristown. In February 1780, Barr left camp to go home to Amenia, N.Y., for the purpose of recovering his health. There he remained until September of the same year, when he rejoined his regiment in Orange Town. Then after a few months of service in the Highlands, Barr’s detachment marched up the Mohawk valley and took over the garrison at Fort Schuyler on November 22d. Following his appointment to the Quarter Master General’s department in May 1871, Barr assumed a post at Sharon, Conn., where he remained until May 1782. While in Sharon he was appointed lieutenant in the Eight Months Levies. Thence Barr was ordered to Peenpack where he remained until July, when his duties called him to Orange Town. From this base he took part in various scouting expeditions up to October 20, 1782 at which date the diary comes to an end.

Concerning Barr’s career after the Revolution, little is ascertainable. The state records reveal that in the year 1786 he was paymaster of the Dutchess County Militia. Barr probably lived in Dutchess county until 1789, in which year he moved away to parts unknown.

Address By C. M. Heaton On John Barr (a copy)

The following patriotic address, dated July 4, 1895, was delivered by an early owner of John Barr’s Book, and give certain particulars as to the manner in which the book came into his possession.

I hold in my hand a book on the fly-leaf of which is written "Ensign John Barr’s Book, Fort Sullivan, Tioga, Sept. 13, 1779."

When I first became aware of my designation as one of the orators of the present occasion, I refused point blank to accept the honor, doubting my ability either to entertain or instruct the company that would be assembled here.

But the following day in looking through certain papers left to me by my father, my hand fell upon this old book, which is nothing less than the diary of a soldier of the Revolutionary War. In it is an account of the manner in which he kept the Fourth of July 1779, when the Nation was in its infancy, being but three years old, but able to speak some words in very plain English, which were taken down by one Thomas Jefferson, and have been read in our hearing today.

Ensign John Barr was attached to the command of General Sullivan, who had been commissioned to lead an army of 5000 men against the Indians along the Susquehanna river, and punish them for the massacre of the Wyoming valley which had taken place the year before. Fearful was the vengeance inflicted. The whole region was swept as by a tornado; forty villages were burned and 160,000 bushels of corn destroyed.

This diary is written in the most commonplace, matter of fact style. The greatest point of interest in connection with the book is simply that we have it here before us, yellow with time, and worn with travel in the knapsack; and since it is not my intention to read its hum-drum pages, line by line let us turn at once to the entry for the Fourth of July 1779, which was a Sunday.

General orders for all the troops at this point to assemble at 3 o’clock P. M., it being anniversary of our Independence, now entering the 4th year thereof. The troops paraded on the bank of the south-east end of the Lake, had 13 cannon fired attended with a running fire from right to left of the troops. Of musketry after Fue de Joye, attended Divine service, then returned to camp—there all the officers of the Brigade were invited by Col. Reignier (Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Reignier de Roussi, 2d New York Regiment. Heitman, Historical Register, p. 195) to wait upon him and drink grogg.


Our Masonic friends will be interested in the following entry made December 27, 1779. Monday---St. John’s Day,

There was a procession of the free and accepted masons---His Excellency (Gen. Washington) attended, Had a discourse delivered on the occasion by the Rev. Mr. Jones, well suited to the purpose."

For September 24, 1780, the entry reads:

Attended the Lodge on Sunday evening where Col. Thomas Chambers of the Penna. Engr’s and Samuel Talmage of our regiment were completed to the sublime degree of M. M.

About midsummer of the year 1780, a strong British fleet arrived at New York (then occupied by the enemy) making them the masters of the situation on land as well as on the sea. In the midst of the gloom thus thrown over the hearts of the patriots, a blow was struck at the cause of liberty in a quarter where it was least expected. I refer to the treachery of Benedict Arnold. He had been found guilty of dishonesty while in command at Philadelphia, was tried by court martial, and in compliance with its verdict, was reprimanded by Washington. A fierce thirst for revenge took possession of the infinitesimal soul of Arnold, and he devised a place to give it effect.

West Point at that time was the most important post in the hands of the Americans. Arnold solicited and received the appointment of its command. He at once proposed to the British General Clinton, the betrayal of that fortress into his hands.

Clinton believed that the loss of this stronghold would put an end to the rebellion, and gladly listened to the offer. He sent Major John Andre to confer with the traitor on the conditions of its surrender.

Andre sailed up the Hudson on a British ship-of-war, landed a few miles below West Pont, and at midnight was met by Arnold in a thicket near the shore. The details were agreed upon. Arnold was to receive $50,000 and the rank of brigadier general in the British army. Plans of the fortress, and a statement of its conditions were given to Andre, who concealed them in his stockings.

He set out by land to return to New York City. Taking the east side of the river, he reached the neighborhoods of Tarrytown and Sing Sing—but here let Ensign John Barr tell us what he knows:

Tuesday Sept. 26, 1780. Was ordered to be ready to march on a minute’s warning on account of the enemy coming up the river. Had intelligence of one Major John Andre Adj’t Gen’l of the British Army, as a Spy—he was detected by Mr. Paulding at Sing Sing on his return to New York. As also, that Genl. Arnold had deserted his colors, fled to New York This day paid Mr. Nathaniel Richards 181 dollars for the use of his horse to ride to camp. The 1st and 2nd Penna. Brigades marched last night for West Point on the intelligence that Arnold had betrayed the garrison.

Wednesday, 27th. Nothing material.

Thursday 28th. Detached for Brigade Camp guard—blustery weather. The afore-mentioned Adj’t Gen’l. as a spy was brought to camp.

Friday 29th. Relieved this morning by Ensign Bartholemew Vanderburg. Went in company with Lieut. Rudolphus Van Hovenbargh to Dobbs Ferry to see the works where there is a block house built with a very strong Redoubt around it. Expense to-day $15.00.

Sunday, Oct 1st. Detached for officers of Police. Maj. Andre, Adj’t Gen’l. to the British Army was tried for coming ashore within our lines, changing his clothes and taking the Plans of Stony Point and West Point, as a spy, was found guilty by a board of General Officers and condemned to be hanged to-day at 5 o’clock P. M., but reprieved until to morrow at 12.

Monday, Oct. 2d Maj. Andre was executed at 12 o’clock this day—concluding his life with repeating these words—that he was reconciled to his death, but was disappointed as to the Mode of it, and that the spectators would bear witness that he met his fate a brave man. Attended Lodge tonight; Lieut. Williams was raised to the sublime of M. M.—

The young officer, Maj. Andre of the British Army, was a brave, amiable, and accomplished man. His execution excited the sympathies even of his enemies. He showed no fear of death. He was buried near the place of execution, but afterwards disinterred and taken to London and now rests in Westminster Abbey.

I make but one more quotation from this old book. The writer seems to have laid it aside for 21 years, and then wrote as follows:

On the night of the 17th of May 1803 I was informed by a vision in my sleep that I should live but six years. (signed) John Barr

Did the vision prove true: We know not. But I am glad that John Barr lived to the date of the last entry, to enjoy the peace his valor won. All honor to this obscure soldier of the Revolution, whose name by chance has been handed down to us—literally—written by his own hand.

We know that in all ages it is the "plain people" that do the work and bear the burden of the times in which they live.

And so I come here today with this sentiment: Whenever we review that portion of our history which relates to the days of the Revolution, let us not forget the gratitude we owe to the rank and file of those who fought, and bled, and died for us.


The America Revolution is doubtless the most momentous even written upon the pages of modern history. Changes equally great and convulsions equally violent have taken place and the history of man speaks of many instances in which oppression, urged beyond endurance, has called forth the spirit of successful and triumphant resistance.

But in the events we are to celebrate this day, we see feeble colonies, without an army, without a navy, without an established government, without revenue, without munitions of war, without fortifications, boldly stepping forth to meet the veteran armies of a proud, powerful and vindictive enemy.

We see these colonies amidst want, poverty and misfortune, for seven long years, guided by the Hand that rules all things to work for good to those who love His name, sustaining the weight of a cruel conflict upon their own soil. We see them at length victorious, stand forth on the pages of history, a free, sovereign and independent nation. We see them bold enough, and, with the God-given wisdom, wise enough to undertake the conduct of their affairs on principles directly the reverse of those by which the world in all preceding ages had been guided. Springing up from the struggle we see a government shedding the most beneficent political blessings upon millions of people gathered from all nations.

And if John Barr could be called from his long rest to take a seat in our midst today, he would be astounded a the roar of the trains as they thunder along the iron road, and what would he say when we told him of the wonders of electricity—the rapidity of the printing press, the typewriter, the sewing machine, the harvester—and that among the nations of the earth we do in very deed stand free and independent of them all, fearing none, a Nation of 70,000,000     people.

One answer I know he could make—he could point to those two brazen pillars and say:

The Promise of God to David has been fulfilled—that in strength and beauty He would establish his Kingdom.

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