Tales From the Neutral Ground; Martha Banks

A recollection of the “Neutral Ground” as told by my fifth-great-grandmother Martha Banks in 1851, during an interview with Judge James MacLean MacDonald. 

(What were the McDonald Papers? According to the Westchester County Historic Society, “The McDonald Papers are comprised of over 1000 pages of reminiscences about the American Revolution. Compiled between 1844 and 1851, they record the interviews of 241 elderly men and women who had been living in Westchester County during the war. This valuable resource was the work of Judge James MacLean Macdonald, a Westchester attorney who, because of illness, had to give up his law practice. Although he was partially paralyzed, he determined to record the recollections of the war of the remaining people in the county who had lived through it. The result of Macdonald’s efforts is a rich and personal picture of the hardships of Westchester residents, living in the “Neutral Ground” between 1776 and 1783.

When Macdonald completed the interviews, he wrote a series of lectures which were delivered in 1855 at meetings of the New-York Historical Society. These lectures were published by WCHS in 1927 in two volumes titled The McDonald Papers. Although he spelled his name Macdonald, the interviews have always been known as the McDonald Papers.”)

November 4th, 1851, Martha, wife of James Lyon, before mentioned, and daughter of John Banks of Middle Patent:

I am 88, one year only older than my husband. Once towards the close of the war, early about daylight of a Sunday morning in the fall, I think, Colonel Holmes, at the head of a party of Refugees came to my father’s house in the Middle Patent. Father had been guarding the cattle all night. (They were for safety kept in the yard, where they could be seen.)

The first we knew they broke and cut the windows with their swords. My father was abed with the curtains drawn. They surrounded the house and forced the doors, and demanded all our money. My father gave them his pocket book which contained only one dollar. They demanded more. Father said that was all he had.

A gentleman now spoke: “How d’e do, Mr. Banks?”

“I don’t know who you are,” said Father, much frightened and trembling like a leaf.

“What! Don’t you know an old neighbor?!”

“No,” said my father, “I don’t recollect you.”

“I am Colonel Holmes,” replied the stranger.

I heard one of the men say, “Give up your money, or you are a dead man.”

My father then reasoned with and shamed Colonel Holmes for allowing an old acquaintance to be robbed. Holmes replied, “That is the usage of war.”

I ran into the room in my night dress, and knocked up the muzzle of a gun pointed at my father’s breast. They took off all our bed clothes and took most of our other clothes, which we never got back again.

They inquired for my brothers and took one of them a prisoner. Then they inquired for the other brothers. I told them the others had gone to Bedford for a force to take them. They then left my father’s in a hurry and retreated. A few plunderers remained behind to take off what remained of our clothes. My brother Samuel (a Lieutenant) was concealed between two beds and suffocated almost. He at last got his gun and went out and fired at them. This alarmed them, and an officer came back and struck the plunderers with the flat of his sword and made them give up the plunder. They took off all our cattle, but when my brother fired at them they abandoned the cattle. They they took the road towards Stanwich.

My brother Samuel was resolved in advancing and firing upon them. They supposed there was a much larger force supporting him and following them, and they consequently retreated in haste.

This occurred in the last of the Revolutionary War. Peace was declared the very next year. Our cattle were taken three different times and every time retaken. They spared the Tories, when the Refugees came up, but plundered the Whigs.

(Note from James MacDonald: Does not the foregoing account of the plundering excursion to Middle Patent towards the close of the war relate to Colonel Hatfield’s foray of July 1, 1780?)

Colonel Holmes insisted on taking my father prisoner notwithstanding all he could say, and sat down and wrote and gave him a parole requiring him to go down to Morrisania in ten days, but it being towards the end of the war, he didn’t go.

(relationships 1 – 8 are proven via DAR documentation):

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Martha Banks (1764 – 1849)
Parents: John Banks and Deborah Newman
Spouse: James Lyon
Relationship to SK Roots: 5th Great Grandmother

  1. Martha Banks (1764 – 1849)
  2. Deborah Lyon (1791 – 1877)
  3. George Washington Moseman (1827 – 1888)
  4. Willet William Moseman (1852 – 1924)
  5. Nathaniel Greene van Buren Moseman (1872 – 1961)
  6. Augusta Wilhemenia Moseman (1909 – 1998)
  7. Herbert Charles Woznick
  8. Sally

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