Sunday, February 12, 2012

Daniel Sutherland, 80th Regiment, and Elizabeth Rezeau

This is an appropriate week to present a love story, one that illustrates the too-often overlooked impact of warfare and the itinerant military life on romance.

Daniel Sutherland was a young Scotsman who responded to the feverish call to arms that echoed throughout great Britain when France joined the war and invasion of the home islands became a real possibility. Sutherland enlisted in the 80th Regiment of Foot, a new regiment raised in the Edinburgh area in the first half of 1778. Within a year they were sent to bolster British forces in America, arriving in New York in August 1779.

Soon after arrival in America Daniel Sutherland was appointed corporal, an indication that he had taken well to military life and could be trusted with responsibility. After nearly two years of routine service in the garrison of New York the 80th Regiment boarded ships again, this time bound for Virginia. There they became part of Cornwallis's army, fighting at posts along the James River before establishing themselves in Yorktown. Here they endured the siege that sealed the course of the war. Sutherland and his fellow soldiers endured 18 months of captivity before being repatriated in early 1783.

The 80th Regiment returned to the New York area, landing on Staten Island and taking up cantonments near the town of Richmond. It was here that Daniel Sutherland's fate was sealed by forces more powerful than any adversary he had yet faced: he was smitten by love.

Sutherland met a local woman named Elizabeth Rezeau, whose father and uncle owned adjacent farms on the island. The family had pledged their loyalty to the crown when the British army arrived on the island in 1776. After fancying her from afar for some time Sutherland encountered her out walking one day among the Staten Island cherry trees, and pledged his loyalty to her.

Although sympathetic, Betsy Rezeau could not return his affections. She had been deceived by an officer from the Queen's Rangers, a regiment raised in America of men loyal to the British cause. Due either to professional obligation or romantic callousness he had abandoned her and their infant child. Her father disowned her, and she now lived with her pitying uncle. She would not cast her lot again with a soldier.

Devastated, Sutherland fell into a love-lorn malaise. He carved her name into a cherry tree where they'd spoke. He returned again and again to the spot. He lost his appetite, his strength, and his very will to live. Doctor Samuel Pleydell, surgeon's mate for the regiment, attended him to no avail.

At the beginning of August 1783, the 80th Regiment removed from Staten Island to man the lines at the northern tip of Manhattan. Daniel Sutherland bade farewell to the cherry trees and the prospect of again seeing his adorned Betsy Rezeau. On the 11th of August, he died.

This tragic story was observed by one of Sutherland's comrades in the 80th, a private soldier named Andrew Scott. Scott had a penchant for poetry, entertaining his fellow soldiers with songs of their experiences set to popular tunes. Years later, Scott published a book of songs including the one called "Betsy Rosoe." More detail about Scott, including the song lyric in its entirety, will appear in my forthcoming book British Soldiers, American War due for release in the fall of 2012.

There is a caveat that the identity of the young corporal who lost his will to live is uncertain; three corporals in the 80th Regiment died after the corps left Staten Island, one each in August, September and October. I've assumed that the first of them, Daniel Sutherland, is one about whom Scott wrote. The tale as related in Scott's song fit known facts well, even though the tragic hero cannot be identified for certain.

2 comments:

  1. Is there any indication besides the young lady's name that Scott was writing literally? A soldier dying of love makes for a more dramatic song than, say, a soldier leaving because his unit is being sent somewhere else. And "Betsy Rosoe" offers the songwriting advantage of being a rhythmic name that's easily rhymed.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's a great question, and the answer is that although all of the details in the story indicate a factual basis, we cannot know for certain that the specific events happened as stated.

    The author of song 'Betsy Rosoe' says that it is "founded upon reality" and that he "was intimately acquainted with both parties mentioned in this Song." He indicates that the heroine's father and uncle owned 'plantations' near Richmond on Staten Island, which is true of Jacob and James Rezeau. Jacob Rezeau had a daughter Elizabeth (Betsy) born around 1760. So there is a real person of the right age in the right location. It bears noting that she married Hermanus Cropsey in 1791 - a late enough age to suggest that she'd perhaps had some relationship issues earlier in life.

    The song gives no clues as to the identity of the Queen's Rangers officer. I've found no indication that Elizabeth Rezeau had a child during this era, but the child would probably have had the father's name so I can't draw conclusions based without a name. The author of the song identifies many Staten Island landmarks and frames the events around the 80th Regiment's departure from the island which occurred at the beginning of August 1783. He identifies the hero as a corporal in his own regiment, and three corporals did in fact die in the subsequent months - one each in August, September and October. The song also names the surgeon's mate of the regiment.

    In short, all of the information related in the song that can be corroborated correlates well with facts. But we nonetheless cannot be certain which of the three deceased corporals in the 80th regiment was involved, or if the romance related in the song was truly the cause of death.

    ReplyDelete