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D A VID HUMPHREY S.
David HUMPHREYS was the son of the Rev. Daniel Humphreys, pastor of a Presbyterian church in the town of Derby, in the state of Connecticut.
He was born in the year 1753. His juvenile history would probably be of little importance, even were it practicable to trace it with accuracy, after the lapse of so many years.
He entered Yale college as a freshman, in the year 1767, and received his diploma as bachelor of arts, in the year 1771. Either owing to the exciting causes, which eventually terminated in the establishment of American independence, or to a singular combination of youthful intellectual powers, the brief time of the presidency of Dr. Daggett seems to present the most brilliant display of eminent names that is furnished by the catalogue of Yale college.
Young HUMPHREYS was among the pupils of that presidency. Trumbull, Dwight, and HUMPHREYs, contemporaries as academicians, and soon after, Barlow, while they maintained honorable rank as scholars, brought the charms of poetry from their studies, to grace the progress of freedom, and strew flowers on the pathway of liberty. Excitements that influenced teachers, who considered even clerical immunities and obligations as forming no just exemption from active personal service in opposition to tyranny and oppression, operated with wonderful effect on the minds of pupils. A love of letters became united with a love of country; scholarship and patriotism formed an alliance, and literature in all its branches lent its aid to the cause of freedom.
The young bards of the college raised their animating strains; and with the caustic satire of Trumbull, the noble songs of Dwight, and the elaborate efforts of Barlow, were mingled the patriotic effusions of HUMPHREYS. Their early efforts presaged much for the future; and now, since they have all passed from the stage of action, it is with pride and pleasure that we can interweave their laurels.
But it was not alone in poetry that their efforts were expended. Trumbull, the friend and favorite law student of the elder President Adams, gave an animating impulse, as a political writer, in furtherance of the cause of liberty; Barlow and Dwight became chaplains in the army; while the more ambitious energy of HUMPHREYs, led him to the field as a soldier.
After the completion of his collegiate studies, HUMPHREYS resided (it is presumed in the character of an instructer) in the family of Colonel Phillips, of Phillips' manor, in Westchester county, New York. How long he remained in the family of Colonel Phillips, is not known to the writer; but from a sonnet "addressed to his friends at Yale college, on leaving them to join the army," it is supposed, that he returned again to classic ground, and, having there sought a place, in which his talents could be useful to his country, embarked as an early soldier in the cause of the revolution. The first stanza of the sonnet expresses his feelings:
“ Adieu, thou Yale! where youthful poets dwell;
No more I linger by thy classic stream.
Mr. HUMPHREYS entered the army as a captain. His literary talents and patriotic sentiments commended him to the early notice of the most efficient and discerning officers; and in 1778, with the lineal rank of captain, he held the additional appointment of aid to Major General Putnam. In October, 1777, it appears from a note inserted in his “Life of General Putnam,” that he was “major of brigade to the first Connecticut brigade.” The period to which the note refers, was the time of the capture of Fort Montgomery, by Sir Henry Clinton ; and the brigade to which HUMPHREYS was attached, was commanded by Brigadier General Theophilus Parsons. The acquaintance formed at that time, probably led to his more intimate association with Major General Putnam, who was then acting under the appointment of Washington, as commander “of a separate army in the Highlands of New York.”
The peculiar circumstances, under which the revolutionary army was organized, rendered the services of well educated and patriotic young men peculiarly acceptable to sagacious commanders. The confidential situation of aid became important, both in field and cabinet service, and the ablest and best informed young men were selected for that station. It was in this field of duty, combining as well the cultivated talents of a scholar as the ardor of a devoted soldier of liberty, that HUMPHREYS was destined to serve his country.
Without tracing his biography with the minuteness befitting the historian of a national chief, it may, perhaps, be sufficient to note the outline of his services as a soldier, by a quotation from his poem, “On the Happiness of America,” addressed to the American people," soon after the close of the revolutionary war. In alluding to the interest that another generation might feel in the incidents that resulted in the birth of a new empire, he thus alludes to his personal agency:
“I, too, perhaps, should Heaven prolong my date,
The oft-repeated tale shall oft relate ;
From allusions in the preceding extract, it appears that HumPHREYS had the singular good fortune to be allied, on terms of family intimacy, with several of the most discriminating, intelligent, and efficient chiefs of the revolution. To have been selected in perilous times, from a host of aspiring young men, as the confidential friend of Parsons, Putnam, Greene, and Washington; and to have accompanied them successively, as a staff officer, through the vicissitudes and dangers of their campaigns, is proof sufficient of his capacity and bravery as a soldier. Indeed we cannot but readily pardon the vanity of the youthful poet, in recording with pride the noble testimonials that had been thus awarded to his talents and patriotism by such illustrious men.
He received his appointment as aid and military secretary to General Washington, in 1780, and, after visiting his old friend, General Putnam, who was suffering under the effects of a paralytic attack, at Pomfret, Connecticut, joined the family of the commander-in-chief, in the early part of that year. From that time, he constantly resided with Washington, enjoying his full confidence and friendship, and sharing in the toils of his arduous duties, until the close of the war.
On the surrender of Cornwallis, the captured standards were delivered to his charge. In the honors conferred by a grateful country on the actors in that brilliant campaign, Colonel HUMPHREYS was not forgotten. In November, 1781, congress “Resolved, that an elegant sword be presented in the name of the United States, in congress assembled, to Colonel HUMPHREYS, aid-de-camp of General Washington, to whose care the standards taken under the capitulation of York were consigned, as a testimony of their opinion of his fidelity and ability; and that the board of war take order thereon.” In the year 1786, this resolution was carried into effect, and the sword presented by General Knox, secretary of war, accompanied by a highly complimentary letter.
In November, 1782, he was, by resolution of congress, commissioned as lieutenant-colonel, with order that his commission should bear date from the 23d of June, 1780, when he received his appointment as aid-de-camp to the commander-in-chief. He had, when in active service, given the sanction of his name and influence in the establishment of a company of colored infantry, attached to Meigs', afterwards Butler's regiment, in the Connecticut line. He continued to be the nominal captain of that company, until the establishment
The preliminaries of peace between the United States and Great Britain, having been agreed on, in November, 1782, the operations of the army were soon after suspended; although the commander-in-chief continued with the northern division until December, 1783, when he resigned his commission. He was attended at Annapolis, on that interesting occasion, by Colonel HUMPHREYS, who thence, accompanied him to Mount Vernon.
In May, 1784, Colonel HUMPHREYS was elected by congress, secretary to the commission for negotiating treaties of commerce with foreign powers. The commissioners were John Adams, then minister in Holland ; Benjamin Franklin, then minister in France; and Thomas Jefferson, who received his appointment as commissioner three days previous to the election of Colonel HUMPHREYS as secretary.
In July of the same year, he accompanied Mr. Jefferson to Europe. Several eminent men, and among them his friend, General Kosciusko, were the companions of his voyage. The commission was limited in duration to two years; at the expiration of which time, Colonel HUMPHREYS, having spent a part of the winter of 1785 in England, returned to America, and immediately visited General Washington, at Mount Vernon. In the year 1786, symptoms of discontent, arising from the arrangements of the government, manifested themselves in regular military preparations for redress or resistance. The period alluded to, is commonly known as “the time of Shay's rebellion." With a view, probably, to aid in suppressing those dangerous movements, Colonel HUMPHREYS returned to his native place, and was, in the autumn of 1786, elected a member of assembly from Derby, in the Connecticut legislature. He was by that legislature appointed to the command of a regiment, raised in compliance with a requisition of congress, on account of an Indian war;" the real object of the requisition being disguised from motives of policy.
On receiving his commission, Colonel HUMPHREYS fixed upon Hartford, as his head quarters and recruiting rendezvous. He there had an opportunity of renewing his intimacy with his early literary associates, Trumbull and Barlow, and, in connection with them and Dr. Lemuel Hopkins, an accomplished poet and satirist, was engaged in writing the Anarchiad. It consisted of a series of poetical essays, characterized by the brilliancy, sentiment, and wit, which such a union of talents could not fail to give.
The time of Colonel HUMPHREYs' active employment in his new department of military duty, was of short duration. He continued, however, in command, until the suppression of the insurrection in 1787.
In the year 1788, he again went by invitation to Mount Vernon, and while there wrote his “Life of General Putnam," and several poetical pieces. From the dates of the prologue and epilogue to the tragedy, entitled “ The Widow of Malabar," translated by him from the French, it is presumed, that these compositions engaged his leisure hours at that time.
In the year 1789, he was appointed by congress as one of a board of commissioners, to treat with the southern Indians. His associates