Book Review: Caty A Biography of Catharine Littlefield Greene

The introduction begins with a scholarly look at the feminine sphere of women during the colonial period and society’s disapproval of women who were perceived to have stepped outside of it pre- and post- American Revolution. Caty Greene often defied this narrow perception of acceptable behavior. She also shouldered heavy financial burdens who her husband, General Nathanael Greene, one of George Washington’s most trusted and capable generals, shouldered as a direct result of the war until his early death in 1786.

Caty burned all her letters to Nathanael therefore their relationship is interpreted through Nathanael’s letters and responses to her.

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Caty Greene later in life, 1809

Review:

May 1761, six-year-old Caty Littlefield watched her mother’s burial on Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island, an isolated place where her ancestors had lived since the 1660’s free from Massachusetts dogma. Two years later, Caty was taken in by her namesake, her mother’s sister Catharine Greene, a dark-haired violet-eyed beauty who Caty resembled. Aunt Catharine was married to William Greene, Jr. a Rhode Island politician who was distantly related to Nathanael Greene. Nathanael was a frequent visitor to the house in East Greenwich.

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General Nathanael Greene

The Caty Nathanael met there was comfortable in the society of men and her “power of fascination was absolutely irresistible.” Nathanael and Caty wed on July 20, 1774. They settled in his home in Coventry, Rhode Island, but those early days of tranquility were short lived. The events in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775 changed all that and Nathanael left with Rhode Island militia to attend the siege of Boston.

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Greene Homestead in Coventry, Rhode Island today.

Caty was determined to spend time with her husband at camp no matter where that was. Pregnant, she traveled to Nathanael’s headquarters west of Boston. When she returned to Coventry, her lack of domestic skills, fear for Nathanael’s safety and pregnancy led to personal anxieties. She squabbled with her female in-laws.

Caty visited her husband at his headquarters as often as possible, with or without her children. As a general’s wife, she was naturally made the center of attention. She became close friends with Martha Washington and Lucy Knox. Her vivacious behavior elicited a spontaneous response from admiring gentlemen. She listened with genuine interest to stories told by men like General Israel Putnam. Young aides became smitten with her looks and playfulness, and Nathanael was delighted by their admiration.

In late spring 1776, whispers about Caty’s behavior circulated among her family members. In the winter of 1777, jealousies and insecurities surfaced between Caty and Nathanael—his admiration for Lady Stirling and Kitty, General Alexander Stirling’s wife and daughter, his reminder to watch her spelling when writing to the scholarly Lucy Knox, and his subsequent letter after he heard about Caty’s many parties:

“In the neighborhood of my quarters there are several sweet pretty Quaker girls. If the spirit should move and love invite who can be accountable for the consequences?” 

Leaving her children with in-laws, Caty arrived in Valley Forge in 1778 where she met men like Lafayette, Steuben, and Hamilton while her jealousy simmered over the Stirling ladies. It was here she met General Anthony Wayne. An incurable ladies man, his wife never came to camp. Caty was stimulated by the company of this charming man. The whispered gossip began yet Nathanael remained unconcerned.

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General Anthony Wayne

By the summer of 1780, she was back in Coventry. Nathanael’s new post was uncertain. Then, he was sent off to the deep South. The Greene’s had no cash; only land in Rhode Island. While Nathanael bore the horrors of the Southern Campaign, forbidding Caty to join him, she was enjoying the social life in Newport among French soldiers.

After the British surrender in Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781, she traveled to South Carolina to join Nathanael at his headquarters near Charleston. She witnessed the devastation Nathanael had warned her of. After a twenty-three month separation, she found her husband much changed and worn down from the war and debt. Only land grants for his service in the Southern campaign stood between their family and utter financial ruin—Mulberry Grove plantation and holdings on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. Anthony Wayne was granted the plantation adjacent to Mulberry Grove.

In 1785, Caty gave birth to their sixth child, Catharine. The infant died of whooping cough. Caty lay for weeks despondent. Nathanael hired a tutor for the children, a twenty-one year old graduate of Yale, Phineas Miller. The family moved to Mulberry Grove in November. Caty was pregnant again. Tragically in April 1786, she fell and gave birth to a premature daughter who died soon after.

By then, the Mulberry Grove plantation was thriving. The Greenes had a promising new start which came to an abrupt end on June 19, 1786, when Nathanael died of sunstroke. Caty soon learned the worst. Her husband died before he had made the barest beginning toward paying off the huge debts he owed to his creditors after borrowing money to equip his Southern Army. She would have to make a claim of indemnity to the government for reimbursement.

She poured her heart out to Jeremiah Wadsworth, one of Nathanael’s creditors and a man she had been attracted to for years. Wadsworth was married and had past indiscretions. Jealousy ignited between Miller and Wadsworth for Caty’s affections and Wadworth’s support in settling her estate in Congress began to wane.

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Jeremiah Wadsworth

In 1791, she stood before Congress with her indemnity claim that Alexander Hamilton had helped her prepare. Anthony Wayne held a seat in Congress and fought furiously for her settlement. On April 27, she was awarded $47,000 and for the first time since the war, her family was solvent. Soon after, Wayne disappeared from her life. He went west to join the military there. He died of complications from gout on December 15, 1796 during a return trip to Pennsylvania from a military post in Detroit.

By this time, Caty and Phineas Miller had drawn up a legal agreement concerning their relationship and prospective marriage. All five of her children were living at Mulberry Grove, but her oldest child, George, drowned soon after coming home from France.

 

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Eli Whitney

Enter Eli Whitney, who came south to accept a teaching position. Miller and Whitney formed a business partnership with Caty as a silent backer to finance Whitney’s cotton gin invention. However, the venture needed more capital than Caty could provide. Caty and Phineas invested in a land scheme—the Yazoo Company. The company collapsed and Caty once again faced poverty. She married Phineas later that year much to Whitney’s chagrin for he was in love with her.

In 1800, Mulberry Grove was sold and the family moved to Cumberland Island at Dungeness where Nathanael, fourteen years before, had begun construction of his family’s future home. The island yielded everything the family needed to survive, but three years later at age thirty-nine, the gentle and faithful Phineas died of blood poisoning after pricking his finger on a thorn.

Caty was faced with selling Phineas’ part of the Miller estate which was tied up in his company with Whitney. There were also the settlements against her estate for legal fees, loans, etc. For a time, she sold live oaks to a lumber company in an effort to salvage the cotton gin company.

Eli Whitney was tormented by his love for Caty, but she was now past childbearing age and he wanted a family. She made a failed attempt at matching him with her youngest daughter, Louisa. On July 5, 1814, Caty wrote her last letter to Whitney who was in New Haven, Connecticut:

“We have a party of eighteen to eat Turtle with us tomorrow. I wish you were the nineteenth. Our fruit begins to flow in upon us—to partake of which I long for you… ”

She had grown and found as Nathanael once suggested, that self-pity made a sad companion. In the last week of August, Caty was struck with a fever. The same week the capital city of Washington lay in ruins. Caty never knew. She died on September 2, 1814.

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Greene-Miller Cemetery on Cumberland Island at Dungeness

Despite history’s proverbial finger pointing about what she may have done during her marriage to Nathanael, I highly recommend this book that highlights the strengths and weaknesses of a woman who faced the consequences of war and met them head on the rest of her life.

 

The Long Stressful July of 1777

By the summer of 1777, the Revolutionary War had inflicted stress on the colonists, the Continental Army, the British, and the governmental bodies of America, Canada, and Britain.  Lack of everything on both sides of the conflict—food, fodder, clothing, money, troops, horses, confidence, faith, and loyalty—ground the souls of the most hearty and steadfast down. Governments were self-serving and citizens were fickle. The British were trying to conduct and finance conflicts in their many colonies throughout the eastern hemisphere. The Americans were struggling for power among their top ranking politicians and military commanders.  The French, with their promises of rank and dreams of monetary gain and glory in the Continental Army arrived with letters of commissions freely given out by American emissaries in Paris.

On July 4, 1777, America celebrated the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence to the joy of patriots and the disdain of loyalists. The Continental Congress’ and the Continental Army’s troubles escalated into a never ending series of events that would test George Washington, his officers and troops’ skills, patience, and endurance. The British Army, divided by the desires of their commander-in-chief General Sir William Howe, Howe’s subordinates Generals John Burgoyne, Henry Clinton, and Guy Carlton, were in no better condition.

General John Burgoyne began his long march from Montreal with an army of 8,000 troops, Native Americans, camp followers, and some loyalist militia with the goal to ultimately take Albany, New York and cutoff New England from the other colonies.

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British General John Burgoyne

He expected his commander-in-chief to rendezvous with him, but William Howe had other ideas: take Philadelphia, the capital of the American government by loading 18,000 British and Hessian troops and 5,000 camp followers on board his brother, Admiral Richard Howe’s ships, sail up the Chesapeake, and march to Philadelphia. Many of his officers worried their destination was south and the misery of the approaching heat while they rocked on the waves, some for as long as three agonizing weeks while the embarkation took place.

On July 6, American held Fort Ticonderoga situated on the southern tip of Lake Champlain fell to Burgoyne’s army without a fight. Subsequently, other American strong holds fell like dominoes in the following days: Fort Anne, Fort Edward, Skenesborough, and Hubbardton in the New Hampshire Grants. The fall of Ticonderoga generated shock waves in England and America. Its exaggerated importance as the key to the continent produced despair in Philadelphia and jubilation in Whitehall, England.

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King George III

When the news reached London, King George III was rumored to have rushed into the Queen’s chambers exclaiming, “I have beat them! I have beat all the Americans!”

William Howe’s second-in-command, General Henry Clinton, returned from England on July 5 and warned him that the British secretary of state to the colonies, Lord George Germain expected William to rendezvous with Burgoyne’s army in Albany. The ever torpid and stubborn Howe ignored Clinton’s reminders, as the two were longtime rivals.  Thus, William, keeping his plans a secret from his officers except Richard, continued to embark his troops onto ships. Clinton feared that the 7,500 troops planned to remain in New York under his command would succumb to an easy rebel defeat and was too small to assist Burgoyne’s army without leaving New York vulnerable.

Meanwhile, Congress was grappling with decisions on what to do with the influx of French officers arriving to demand the fulfillment of agreements doled out to them by the American emissaries—specifically Silas Deane—were fulfilled. One such officer, who had already approached Congress, was French General Philippe du Coudray, a proclaimed specialist in artillery and engineering. General du Coudray arrived in June to claim his position to replace General Henry Knox as commander of the army’s Artillery corps.

As a result, Generals Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox, and John Sullivan submitted their letters of resignation. The letters were read aloud in Congress the first week in July. The letters were seen by congress as “an attempt to influence our decisions and an invasion of the liberties of the people, and indicating a want of confidence in the justice of Congress.” They directed Washington to accept the generals’ resignations if they could not serve their country under the authority of Congress.

On July 11, after hearing the news of the defeat at Fort Ticonderoga, Washington moved his army from Morristown, New Jersey near the New Jersey-New York border until William Howe’s intentions became clear. This left New Jersey open for Howe to march overland to the Delaware River, but Howe’s attention was already turned to the Chesapeake. Washington spread out the Continental Army to watch the Hudson River, the Delaware River, New Jersey, and the Hudson Highlands at Peekskill and West Point.

General Howe’s experienced officers felt anxiety over where they were going while awaiting their embarkation. Colonel Carl von Donop, commander of the brigade of Hessian grenadiers, jotted down his thoughts in the middle of July: “God knows where we shall go south or north, but the heat which is beginning to make itself felt with the approach of the dog-days makes one wish that the general would choose north rather than south.”

But the rotund pompous General James Grant, who spent seven years as governor of East Florida and led the feint near the Red Lyon Inn during the Battle of Long Island, offered a different opinion. “The most intelligent are wide of the mark from a mistaken idea of climate which is the same all over America in the months of July and August. During that time the heats are as great at Boston as at St. Augustine.”

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General Philip Schuyler

During this time, American General Philip Schuyler, in command of the Northern Army engaged with Burgoyne’s army, appealed to New York state officials for more troops. His appeal fell on deaf ears. Washington, however, was listening and he sent General John Nixon with 600 Massachusetts Continentals, and later instructed General Israel Putnam to send “four of the strongest Massachusetts regiments to proceed immediately to Albany.” George Washington, after writing to Congress, also sent General Benedict Arnold and Benjamin Lincoln to contend with Burgoyne’s movements.  Arnold requested Colonel Daniel Morgan and his regiment of riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, called Morgan’s Rifles, to aide him.

After three weeks of embarking his army onto ships, General William Howe and his brother, Richard, set sail for the Chesapeake on July 23. Washington was still unaware of their destination.

On July 27, the French officers, among them the nineteen-year-old Marquis De Lafayette,

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Marquis de Lafayette

arrived in Philadelphia after a 650 mile trip from Charleston, South Carolina. The sick and bedraggled Frenchmen arrived only to have John Hancock, Robert Morris, and James Lovell shuffle them around until they were finally told they were not needed and to go home.  But Lafayette had sent a letter to Congress who read it, overturned their decision and allowed Lafayette to stay under a modified agreement which gave Lafayette the major general commission Silas Deane had promised.

On the domestic front in Braintree, Massachusetts, Abigail Adams was expecting a child in July. Her husband, John, was away at Congress. She wanted him home in time for her delivery and longed for his soothing tenderness. On a night in early July, she was taken with a “shaking fit” and feared the life within her was lost.

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Abigail Adams

Two weeks later, after several days of labor she wrote to John that she had given birth to a stillborn baby girl.

“It appeared to be a very fine babe, and as it never opened its eyes in this world, it looked as though they were only closed for sleep.”

I chose to write about this month because I’m writing about it in my work in progress, the third book in my series, Angels and Patriots. Of course, the events were much more complicated emotionally, physically, and intellectually which I have tried to convey in my book. I’ve written of two and a half years of the Revolutionary War thus far in my series and this one month exhausted even me.

I chose to share that exhaustion.

Resources:

Pancake, John S. 1777 The University of Alabama Press, 1997. Print.

Auricchio, Laura. The Marquis Lafayette Reconsidered New York: Penguin Random House, 2014. Print.

O’Shaughnessy, Andrew Jackson. The Men Who Lost America New Haven & London Yale University Press, 2013. Print.

Puls, Mark. Henry Knox Visionary General of the American Revolution Palgrave McMillian New York, 2008. Print.

Snow, Dean. 1777 Tipping Point at Saratoga Oxford University Press New York, 2016. Print.

Harris, Michael C. Brandywine Savas Beatie LLC El Dorado Hills, California 2017. Print.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Valiant Ambition Penguin Books New York, 2016. Print.

McCullough, David, John Adams Simon & Schuster New York 2001. Print.

My award-winning historical fantasy book series:

Angels & Patriots Book One. Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book One

Angels & Patriots Book Two. The Cause of 1776 is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book Two

20 Quotes from George Washington and His Generals

 

General George Washington

“Remember officers and soldiers that you are free men, fighting for the blessings of liberty.”

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George Washington

 

 

General Benedict Arnold

What do you think would be my fate if my misguided countrymen were to take me prisoner?”

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Benedict Arnold

 

General John Cadwalader

“General Howe is certainly gone to New York, unless the whole is a scheme to amuse and surprise.”

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John Cadwalader

 

General Thomas Conway

“Heaven has been determined to save your Country, or a weak General and bad Councellors would have ruined it.”

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Thomas Conway

 

General Christopher Gadsden

“What I can do for my country, I am willing to do.”

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Christopher Gadsden

 

General Horatio Gates 

“If Old England is not by this lesson taught humility, then she is an obstinate old slut, bent upon her ruin.”

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Horatio Gates

 

General Nathanael Greene 

“We fight, get beat, rise and fight again.”

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Nathanael Greene

 

General William Heath

“I have never been afraid of the force of the enemy. They must be well watched. They, like the Frenchman, look one way and row the other.”

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William Heath

 

General Johann De Kalb 

“I thank you for your sympathy – I die the death I always prayed for – the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man.”  

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Johann De Kalb

 

General Henry Knox

“We want great men who, when fortune frowns, will not be discouraged.”

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Henry Knox

 

General Marquis de Lafayette 

“I am persuaded that the human race was created to be free and that I was born to serve that cause.”

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Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette

 

General Charles Lee

“I…lament with you that fatal indecision of mind which in war is a much greater disqualification than stupidity…”

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Charles Lee

 

General Benjamin Lincoln 

We must have black troops, and a limitless number of them too – paid and treated like their white brothers.”

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Benjamin Lincoln

 

General Hugh Mercer

“For my part I have but one object in view, and that is the success of the cause. God can witness how cheerfully I would lay down my life to secure it!”

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Hugh Mercer

 

General Thomas Mifflin

“There can be no right to power, except what is either founded upon, or speedily obtains the hearty consent of the body of the people.”

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Thomas Mifflin

 

General Richard Montgomery

“I shall endeavour to discharge my duty to society, considering myself only as the citizen, moved by the melancholy necessity of taking up arms for the public safety.”

Richard Montgomery
Richard Montgomery

 

General Philip Schuyler

“I have done all that could be done, as far as the means were in my power, to injure the enemy and to inspire confidence in the soldiers of our army.”

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Philip Schuyler

 

General John Stark

“Live Free Or Die; Death Is Not The Worst Of Evils.”

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John Stark

 

General Freidrich von Steuben

“With regard to military discipline, I may safely say that no such thing existed in the Continental Army.”

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Freidrich von Steuben

 

General Anthony Wayne

“Issue the orders Sir, and I will storm Hell.”

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Anthony Wayne

 

 

** Featured Image “George Washington and his Generals” painted by Jane Sutherland.

My award-winning historical fantasy book series:

Angels & Patriots Book One. Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book One

Angels & Patriots Book Two. The Cause of 1776 is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book Two