Affection with truth must say That, deservedly esteemed in private life, And universally renowned for his public conduct, The judicial and gallant Officer Possessed all the amiable qualities of the Friend, the Gentleman, and the Christian.
From the epitaph written for Sir Peter’s tomb in Westminster Abbey by Dr. Samuel Johnson.
THE sea has always made a splendid romantic setting for a gallant hero. Even one of moderate attainments and inconsiderable adventures may loom to proportions that are quite picturesque when given a background of tossing waves, ” all sails set, and a few jolly tars to sing and fight and heave the rope. And when you have a hero who needs no augmenting of heroism, no spectacular embellishment as it were,what a gorgeous figure he becomes, to be sure!
Peter Warren, fighting Irish lad, venturesome sailor, sometime Admiral and Member of Parliament, and at all times a merry and courageous soldier of the high seas, falls heir to as pretty and stirring a reputation as ever set a gilded aureole about the head of a man. Though he was in the British navy and a staunch believer in ” Imperial England,” he was so closely associated with New York for so many years that no book about the city could be written without doing him some measure of honour. No figure is so fit as Sir Peter’s to represent those picturesque Colonial days when the ” Sons of Liberty ” had not begun to assemble, and this New York of ours was well-nigh as English as London town itself. So, resplendent in his gold-laced uniform and the smartly imposing hat of his rank and office, let him enter and make his bow,Admiral Sir Peter Warren, by your leave, Knight of the Bath, Member of Parliament, destined to lie at last in the stately gloom of the Abbey, with the rest of the illustrious English dead.
He came of a long line of Irishmen, and certainly did that fine fighting race the utmost credit. From his boyhood he was always hunting trouble; he dearly loved a fight, and gravitated into the British navy as inevitably as a duck to water. He was scarcely more than an urchin when he became a fighting sailor, and indeed one could expect no less, for both his father and grand-father had been officers in the service, and goodness knows how many lusty Warrens before them!
For our friend Peter was a Warren of Warrens-town, of the County Meath just west of Dublin, and let me tell you that meant something!
The Warrens got their estates in the days of ” Strongbow,” and held them through all the vicissitudes of olden Ireland. They were a house called ” English-Irish,” and ” inside the pale,” which means that they stood high in British favour, and contributed heroes to the army or navy from each of their hardy generations. They had no title, but to be The Warren of Warrens town, Meath, was to be entitled to look down with disdain upon upstart baronets and newly created peers. Sir Christopher Aylmer’s daughter, Catherine, was honoured to marry Captain Michael Warren, and her brother, Admiral Lord Aylmer, only too glad to take charge of her boy Peter later on.
Peter was the youngest of a family, composed with one exception of boys, and the most ambitious of the lot. When he was nine years old (he was born in 1703, by the bye), his father, Captain Michael, died, and three years later the oldest son, Oliver, decided to send Peter to his uncle Lord Aylmer to be trained for the service. Is it far-fetched to assume that Oliver found his small brother something of a handful? If Peter was one-quarter as pugnacious and fool hardy at twelve as he was at forty, there is small wonder that a young man burdened with the cares of a large estate and an orphaned family would be not unwilling to get rid of him,or at least of the responsibility of him. Their uncle, the Admiral, apparently liked his little Irish nephew, and proceeded to train him for a naval career, with such vigourous success that at fourteen our young hero volunteered for His Majesty’s service, a thing, we may take it, which had been the high dream of his boyish life.
And it was real service too. Boys turned into men very quickly in those days. In Southern and African waters young Peter saw plenty of action. He had such adventures as our modern boys sit up at night to read of. For there were pirates to be encountered then, flesh-and-blood pirates with black flags and the rest of it. And deep-sea storms meant more in those days of sails and comparatively light vessels than we can even imagine today. So swiftly did Peter grow up under this stern yet thrilling education with the English colours, that after four short years he was a lieutenant. And in another six, at an age when most young men are barely standing on the threshold of their life-work, he was posted a full captain and given his first command!
His ship was H. M. S. Grafton, of seventy guns,no small honour for a boy of hardly twenty-four,and it proved to be no empty honour either. No sooner had he been posted captain than he was ordered into action. At that time there were signal and violent differences of opinion between England and other countries,notably Spain and France. Gibraltar was the subject of one of them, it may be recalled. It was to Gibraltar that Captain Warren and his good ship Grafton were ordered. And when Sir Charles Wager seized that historic bone of contention, Peter was with the fleet that did the seizing.
From that moment he was in the thick of trouble wherever it was to be found, like the dear, daredevil young Irishman that he was! Just a moment let us pause to try to visualise this youthful adventurer of ours, with the courtly manners, the irrepressible boyish recklessness and the big heart. Our only authentic descriptions of him are of a Peter Warren many years older; our only even probable likenesses are the same. But let us take these, and reckoning backward see what a man of such characteristics must have been like in his early twenties.
A delightful old print ostensibly representing him at forty, shows him to have been a round-faced, more or less portly gentleman, with a full, pleasant mouth and very big and bright eyes.
His wig is meticulously curled and powdered, and he is, plainly, a very fine figure of a man indeed. Roubilliac’s bust of him in Westminster makes him much better looking and not nearly so stout. Thomas Janvier, who has written delightfully about our captain, disturbs me by insisting that he was a little man,nay, his insult goes deeper: he says a little, fat man! I simply will not accept such a distressing theory!
Edward de Lancey, descended from the family of the girl Peter married, describes him as being “. . . Of attractive manners, quick in perception and action, but clear-headed and calm in judgment.” And the historian Parkman declares that at forty-two he had ” the ardour of youth still burning within him.” Reverse the figures. What do you suppose that ardour was like when he was not forty-two but twenty-four?
At the time of our hero’s first command and first naval engagement on his own ship, things were quite exciting for his King and country, though we have most of us forgotten that such excitements ever existed. England had a host of enemies, some of them of her own household. It was even whispered that the American possessions were not entirely and whole-heartedly loyal! This seemed incredible, to be sure, but the men in high places kept an eye on them just the same. Captain Warren’s first official post was the station of New York, and in 1728 he made his first appearance in this harbour.
He was then just twenty-five, and gloriously adventurous. One can imagine with what a thrill he set sail for a new country, new friends, new excitements! I wonder if he guessed that the lady of his heart awaited him in that unknown land, as well as the dear home where, for all his sea-roving taste, he was to return again and again through twenty rich years? He was in command of the frigate Solebay then, and in the old papers we read many mentions of both ship and officer. From almost the first Peter loved the Colonies and the Colonies loved him. In between his cruises and battles he kept coming back like a homing bird, and every time he came he seemed to have won a little more glory with his various ships,the sloop Squirrel, the frigate Launceston, and the big ship Superbe with sixty guns. It is said that no man save only the Governor himself made so fine an appearance as young Captain Warren, and fair ladies vied with each other for his attentions! Nevertheless, his social successes at this time were nothing to what was to come, when he had more money to spend!
Two years after his first introduction to New York, the Common Council of the city voted to him ” the freedom of the city,” from which one gathers some idea of his standing in public favour! And in another year,of course,he got married, and to one of the prettiest girls in the town, Susanna de Lancey!
Janvier says that the marriage did not take place until 1744, but other authorities place it at thirteen years earlier. It is much more probable that Peter got married at twenty-eight than at forty-one; I scarcely think that he could have escaped so long!
Susanna’s father was Monsieur Etienne de Lancey, a Huguenot refugee, who had fled from Catholic France to the more liberal Colonies, and settled here. He soon changed the Etienne to Stephen, married the daughter of one of the old Dutch houses (Van Cortlandt) and went into business. Just what his occupation was is not clear, but later he acted as agent for Captain Warren in the disposal of his war prizes. His sons, James and Oliver, were intimate friends of Peter’s through life, and, as will be seen, they worked together most zestfully when in later years the captain’s boundless energies took a turn at politics.
So gallant Irish-English Peter and lovely French-Dutch Susanna were married and, we believe, lived happily ever after. They lived in New York town proper, but I conceive that, like other young lovers, they made many a trip out into the country, and that it was their dream to live there one day when they should be rich. Certain it is that as soon as our hero did get a little money at last he could hardly wait to buy the farm land far out of town on the river. But that time was not yet.
Needless to say, Peter’s married life, happy as it was, could not keep him long on shore. We keep finding his name and the names of his ships in the delicious old newspapers of his day: Captain Warren has just arrived; Captain Warren’s ship has ” gone upon the careen ” (i.e., is being repaired) ; Captain Warren is sailing next week, and so on, and so on. The New York Gazette for May 31, 1736, states that: ” On Saturday last, Captain Warren in His Majesty’s ship the Squirrel arrived here in eight weeks from England.” One perceives that this was record time, and worth a journalistic paragraph!
Troubles becoming more rife with Spain in 1739, Peter begged for active service and got it. This probably was the beginning of his great prosperity, though his wealth did not become sensational until nearly five years later. For-tunes were constantly being made in prize ships in those days, and you may be sure that our enterprising sea-fighter was not behind other men in this or in anything else calling for initiative and daring! At all events the records seem to show that he bought his lands in the Green Village,Greenwich,about 1740, when he was thirty-seven. Whether he built his house at that early date is not clear, but he probably didn’t have money enough yet, for when he did build, it was on a magnificent scale. In 1744, however, came his golden harvest time!
It was a little after midwinter of that year that Sir Chaloner Ogle made him commodore of a sixteen-ship squadron in the waters of the Lee-ward Islands where there was decidedly good hunting in the way of prize ships. Off Martinique were many French and Spanish boats simply waiting, it would almost seem, to be eaten alive by the enemy’s cruisers; and Captain Peter who had the sound treasure-hunting instinct of your born adventurer, proceeded to gobble them up! In the four months that rolled jovially by between the middle of February and the middle of June, the Captain captured’ twenty-four of these prizes, one alone with a plate cargo valued at two hundred and fifty thousand pounds! Ah, but those were the rare days for a stout-hearted seafaring man, with a fleet of strong boats and an expensive taste!
Captain Warren brought his prizes to New York and handed them over to his father-in-law’s firm,advertised in the old papers as ” Messieurs Stephen de Lancey and Company,”who acted as his agents in practically all of what Janvier disrespectfully styles ” his French and Spanish swag “! Governor Clinton had exempted prizes from duty, so it was all clear profit. With the proceeds of the excellent deals which De Lancey made for him, he then proceeded to cut the swathe for which he was by temperament and attributes so well fitted.
There never was an Irishman yet, nor a sailor either, who could not spend money in the grand manner. Our Captain was no exception, be certain! He figures superbly in the social accounts of the day; it is safe to assert that he set the pace after a fashion, and fair Mistress Susanna was a real leader of real Colonial dames! He appears to have been a genuinely and deservedly popular fellow, our Peter Warren, throwing his prize money about with a handsome lavishness, and upholding the honour of the British navy as gallantly in American society as ever he had in hostile waters abroad.
And now for that dream of a country home! Warren had lands on the Mohawk River and else-where, but his heart had always yearned for the tract of land in sylvan Greenwich. In that quiet little hamlet on the green banks of the Hudson the birds sang and the leaves rustled, and the blue water rested tired eyes. Peter at this time owned nearly three hundred acres of ground there and now that he had money in plenty, he lost no time in building a glorious dovecote for himself and Mistress Susannaa splendid house in full keeping with his usual large way of doing things.
Stroll around the block that is squared by the present Charles, Perry, Bleecker and Tenth streets some day, look at the brick and stone, the shops and boarding-houses,and try to dream yourself back into the eighteenth century, when, in that very square of land, stood the Captain’s lovely country seat. In those days it was something enormous, palatial, and indeed was always known as the Mansion or Manse. This is, 0f course, the basis for the silly theory that Greenwich got its name from the estate. Undoubtedly the Warren place was the largest and most important one out there, and for a time to ” go out to visit at Greenwich,” meant to go out to visit the Manse. For years the Captain and the Captain’s lady lived in this beautiful and restful place with three little daughters to share their money, their affections and their amiable lives. Thomas Janvier’s description of the house as he visualises it with his rich imagination is too charming not to quote in part:
” The house stood about three hundred yards back from the river, on ground which fell away in a gentle slope towards the waterside. The main entrance was from the east; and at the rear on the level of the drawing-room and a dozen feet or so above the sloping hillsidewas a broad veranda commanding the view westward to the jersey Highlands and southward down the bay to the Staten Island Hills.” The fanciful description goes on to picture Captain Warren sitting on this veranda, ” smoking a comforting pipe after his mid-day dinner; and taking with it, perhaps, as seafaring gentlemen very often did in those days, a glass or two of substantial rumand-water to keep everything below hatches well stowed. With what approving eye must he have regarded the trimly kept lawns and gardens below him; and with what eyes of affection the Launceston, all a-taunto, lying out in the stream! ”
I have called the description of the house ” fanciful,” but it is really not that, since the old house fell into Abraham Van Nest’s hands at a later date, and stood there for over a century, with the poplars, for which it was famous, and the box hedges, in which Susanna had taken such pride, growing more beautiful through the years. Not until 1865 was the lovely place destroyed by the tidal wave of modern building.
The Captain kept his town house as well,the old Jay place, on the lower end of Broadway, but it was at the Manse that he loved best to stay, and the Manse which was and always remained his real and beloved home. In 1749. his seaman’s restlessness again won over his domestic tranquillity and he was off once more in search of fresh adventures and dangers. Says the Weekly Post Boy, of August 27th, in that year:
” His Majesty’s ship Launceston, commanded by the brave Commodore Warren (whose absence old Oceanus seems to lament), being now sufficiently repaired, will sail in a few days in order once more to pay some of His Majesty’s enemies a visit.”
And it winds up with this burst:
” The sails are spread; see the bold warrior comes To chase the French and interloping Dons!”
It was in the following year that he signally distinguished himself in the historic Siege of Louisbourg, winning himself a promotion to the rank of Rear Admiral of the Blue, and a knighthood as well! It may seem a far cry from Greenwich, New York, to Louisbourg, but we cannot pass over the incident without sparing it a little space. Let me beg your patience,quoting, in my own justification, no less a historian than James Grant Wilson:
“This Commodore Warren was one of those indefatigable and nervous spirits who did such wonders at Louisbourg, and it is with particular pride that his achievement should be remembered in a history of New-York, as he was the only prominent New-Yorker that contributed to Massachusetts’ greatest Colonial achievement.”
The capture of Louisbourg may be remembered by some history readers as a part of that English-French quarrel of 1745, commonly known as ” King George’s War,” and also as the under-taking described by so many contemporaries as
Shirley’s Mad Scheme.” The scheme was rather mad; hence its appeal to Peter Warren, who was exceedingly keen about it from the beginning.
Louisbourg was a strong French fortress on Cape Breton Island, commanding the gulf of the St. Lawrence. Its value as a military strong-hold was great, and besides it had long been a fine base for privateers, and was a very present source of peril to the New England fishermen off the Banks. As far back as 1741 Governor Clarke of New York had urged the taking of this redoubtable French station, but it fell to the masterful Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts, finally to organise the expedition. He had Colonial militia to the tune of four thousand men, and he had Colonial boats,nearly a hundred of them,–and he had the approval of the Crown (conveyed through the Duke of Newcastle) ; but he wanted leaders. For his land force he chose General Pepperrill, an eminently safe and sane type of soldier; for the sea he, with a real brain throb, thought of Captain Peter Warren. Francis Parkman says : “Warren, who had married an American woman and who owned large tracts of land on the Mohawk, was known to be a warm friend to the provinces.” He was at Antigua when he received the Governor’s request that he take command of the ” Mad Scheme.” Needless to say, the Captain was charmed with the idea, but he had no orders from the King! He refused almost weeping, and for two days was plunged in gloom. Imagine such a glorious chance for a fight going begging!
Then arrived a belated letter from Newcastle in England, telling him to ” concert measures with Shirley for the annoyance of the enemy.” Warren was so afraid that some future orders would be less vague, and give him less freedom, that he set sail for Boston with a haste that was feverish. He had with him three ships,the Mermaid and Launceston of forty guns each, and the Superbe of sixty. But those two wretched days of delay! He fell in with a schooner from which he learned that Shirley’s expedition had started without him!
I daresay, being a sailor and Irish, our Captain expressed himself exhaustively just then; but he recovered speedily and told the schooner to send him every British ship she met in her voyage; then he changed his course and beat straight for Canseau, determined to be in that expedition after all. He certainly was in it, and a brisk time he had of it, too.
At Canseau they were all tied up three weeks, drilling and waiting for the ice to break, but they were thankful to get there at all. The storms were severe, as may be gathered by this account of their efforts to get into Canseau, writ-ten by one of the men: ” A very Fierse Storm of Snow, som Rain and very Dangerous weather to be so nigh ye Shore as we was; but we escaped the Rocks and that was all.”
Pepperrill was thankful enough to see the Captain and his squadron,it was four ships now, as the schooner had picked up another frigate for him,but the two commanders were destined to rub each other very much the wrong way be-fore they were through. Pepperrill was a man who took risks only very solemnly and with de-liberation, and who was blessed with endless patience. Warren took risks with as much zest as he took rare food and rich wine, and in his swift, full and exciting life there had never been place or time for patience! When the siege actually commenced, the poor Captain nearly went wild with the inaction. He wanted to attack, to move, to do something. Pepperrill’s calm judgment and slow tactics drove him distracted, and they were forever at odds in spite of a secret respect for each other. In speaking of the contrast between them, Parkman, after describing Pepperrill’s careful management of the military end, says : ” Warren was no less earnest than he for the success of the enterprise. . . . But in habits and character the two men differed widely. Warren was in the prime of life, and the ardour of youth still burned within him. He was impatient at the slow movement of the siege.”
The Siege of Louisbourg started by Warren’s and Pepperrill’s demand that the fortress surrender, and the historic answer of Duchambon, the French commander, that they should have their answer from the cannon’s mouth. It is not my purpose to tell of it in detail, for it lasted forty-seven days and strained the nerves of every-one to the breaking point. But one or two things happened in the time which, to my mind, make our Captain seem a very human person. There was, for instance, his amazing kindness, as unfailing to his captives as to his own men. When the great French man-of-war Vigilant came to the aid of the beleaguered fortress, Warren joyously captured the monster, in full sight of Louisbourg and under the big guns there. It was this incident, by the bye, for which he was knighted afterwards. The French captain, Marquis de la Maisonfort, who was Warren’s prisoner, wrote in a letter to Duchambon: ” The Captain and officers of this squadron treat us, not as their prisoners, but as their good friends.”
Warren went wild with rage when he heard of the horrors that had befallen an English scouting party which had fallen into the hands of a band of Indians and Frenchmen, and hideously tortured. He wrote stern protests to Duchambon, and it was at this time that he urged Pepperrill most earnestly to attack. But the more phlegmatic officer could not see it in that way. Warren then argued with increasing heat that by this time the French reinforcements must be near, and could easily steal up under cover of the fog which was thick there every night. When Pepperrill still objected he lost his temper entirely, and said and wrote a number of peppery things. ” I am sorry,” he said, ” that no one plan, though approved by all my captains, has been so fortunate as to meet your approbation or have any weight with you!”
Pepperrill explained imperturbably that Warren was trying to take too much authority upon himself. Captain Peter sent him a furious note: ” I am sorry to find a kind of jealousy which I thought you would never conceive of me. And give me leave to tell you I don’t want at this time to acquire reputation, as I flatter myself mine has been pretty well established long before!”
And then, as full of temper as a hot-headed schoolboy, he brought out a letter from Governor Shirley expressing regret that Captain Warren could not take command of the whole affair,” which I doubt not would be a most happy event for His Majesty’s service.”
Even this could not shake the General’s super-human calm. He was indeed so quiet about it, and so uniformly polite, that his fiery associate was simply obliged to cool off. He was of too genuinely fine fibre to bear a grudge or to make a hard situation harder, and he consented to compromise, saying truly that at such times it was ” necessary not to Stickle at Trifles! ”
At last the time came for action, and on the seventeenth of June they took Louisbourg, in a most brilliant and stirring manner, and Warren was so wild with delight that he could not contain himself. He scribbled a note to Pepperrill which sounds like the note of a rattle-pated college lad instead of a distinguished naval commander: ” We will soon keep a good house together, and give the Ladys of Louisbourg a gallant Ball.”
He probably gave that ball, too, though there doesn’t seem to be any record of it. He certainly had a beautiful time going about making speeches to the troops, amid much cheering; and dispensing casks of rum in which to drink his health and King George’s! He was made the English Governor of the fortress temporarily, and when the news of their capture reached England both commanders were knighted and Peter Warren was made Rear Admiral of the Blue.
And in the height of the excitement a ship arrived at Louisbourg one fine day bearing Susanna herself, who had come in person to see that the hero of the day was really safe and sound!
A letter written from Louisbourg on September 25th, and published in the Weekly Post Boy, gives this account:
” . . The King has made the General a baronet of Great Britain; and ’tis said Mr. Warren will be one also, who is recommended by the Lords Justices to the King of Governor of this Place, and is made Rear Admiral of the Blue: He hoisted his Flag yesterday Afternoon on the Superbe, when he was saluted by the Ships in the Harbour, and the Grand Battery.”
Soon after,if we may trust James Grant Wilson’s history,he did indeed receive the Order of the Bath, and so henceforward we must give him his title,Admiral Sir Peter Warren, no less! After he came home from Louisbourg, the city of New York was so well pleased with him that the council voted him some extra land,which he really did not need in the least, having plenty already.
At least one more exploit was to be added to the wreath of Peter Warren’s brave enterprises in behalf of his King and country. In 1747 the French again became troublesome. A fleet of French men-of-war under one La Jonquiere, an able commander, was ordered to go and retake Louisbourg,that, at least, among other things.
Sir Peter went to join the English commander, Anson, off Cape Finisterre,(the ” End of the Earth “) and acquitted himself there so gallantly and effectively that again his country rang with praise of him,his country which then lay on two sides of the sea. America’s pride in him is shown by some of the comments in the New York press, after he had so brilliantly helped in the capture of La Jonquiere’s ships. Here is, for in-stance, one letter from an eyewitness which was printed in the New York Gazette, August 31, 1747:
” I have the Honour to send you some Particulars concerning the late Engagement on 3rd Instant off Cape Finisterre; which, tho’ in the greatest degree conducive to the Success of that glorious Day, yet have not been once mentioned in the publick Papers. . . . You may be surpriz’d, Sir, when I assert, that out of the formidable English Squadron, but seven Ships were engag’d properly speaking. Concerning the Gallantry of three of them, which were the Head-most Ships, you have already had publick ac-counts; and my intention by this, is to warm your hearts with an Account of the Behaviour of two others, the Devonshire, Admiral Warren’s Ship, and the Bristol, commanded by Capt. Montague.”
The letter goes on to describe the battle minutely, telling how Warren came boldly up to the French Commodore’s ship, and attacked her, “And, having receiv’d her fire, as terrible a one as ever I saw, ran up within Pistol-shot and then returned it, and continued a brisk fire till the enemy struck.” Then, he continues, Warren ” made up to the Invincible ” and attacked her, later seconded by Montague. Anson, the commanding Admiral, he adds rather drily, was at least a mile astern.
In the same edition of the paper which prints this letter, we find a little side light on the way in which Lady Warren spent her days when her magnificent husband was away at the wars. Between an advertisement of “Window Crown-Glass just over from England,” and ” A Likely Strong Negro Wench, fit for either Town or Country Business, to be sold,” we find a crisp little paragraph:
” All Persons that have any Demands on the Honourable Sir Peter Warren, are desired to carry their accounts to his Lady, to be adjusted, and receive Payment.”
Sir Peter was, as we have seen, not a person who could sit still and peacefully do nothing.
Inactivity was always a horror to him; even his domestic happiness and his wholesome joy in his wife and daughters could not entirely fill his life when he was not at sea. His first naive and childish pleasure in his immense fortune was an old story, and the King couldn’t provide a battle for him every moment. The real events of his life were war cruises, but in between he began to take a hand in the politics of New York. He was high in favour with the English Thronewith some reason, we must admitand he didn’t mind stating the fact with the candour and doubt-less the pride of a child of nature, as well aswho knows ?a touch of arrogance, as became a man of the world, and an English one to boot!
His brother-in-law, James de Lancey, was Chief Justice, and at sword’s point with Clinton, the Governor of New York. De Lancey boasted politely but openly that he and Sir Peter had twice as much influence in England as had Clinton, which was probably quite true. Clinton was desperately afraid of them both. Just when Clinton felt he was making a little headway Warren was called to London to enter Parliament as the member for Westminster. This gave him more prestige than ever, and the Governor moved heaven and earth to discredit him in the eyes of the Lords of Trade in London. But just then heaven and earth were personified by the British Crown and Court, and they turned deaf ears to Clinton and listened kindly to the naval hero who had made himself so prime a favourite. Clinton firmly expected and fervently feared that Warren’s influence would mean his eventful over-throw and not until our hero’s death did he ever draw a breath that was free from dread.
After the Revolution some of the De Lanceys lost their lands because of their loyalty to the Crown, but in Sir Peter’s time the sun shone for those who stood by the King.
But the day came speedily when Sir Peter sailed away to return no more, and I am sure every tree in Greenwich and every cobblestone in New York mourned him!
It was in 1747 that our hero was summoned to London, to enter Parliament and from that time on was a bright particular star in English society. Known as ” the richest man in England,” he was a truly magnificent figure in a magnificent day. Lady Warren, who was still a beauty and a wit, was a great favourite at Court, and writers of the day declared her to be the cleverest woman in all England. Think of what golden fortunes fell to the three Warren girls, who were now of marriageable age!
They made our old friend Peter Admiral of the Red Squadron as well as an M. P., and Lady Warren so splendidly brought out her daughters that Charlotte married Willoughby, Earl of Abingdon, and Ann wed Charles Fitzroy, Baron Southampton. The youngest girl, Susanna, chose a colonel named Skinner,and New York, still affectionately inclined toward the Admiral’s daughters, named streets after the husbands of all three! Our present Christopher Street used to be Skinner Road; Fitzroy Road ran northward, near our Eighth Avenue from Fourteenth Street far uptown; Abingdon Road, which was known colloquially and prettily as ” Love Lane,” was far, far out in the country until much later, some-where near Twenty-first Street. Abingdon Square alone preserves one of the old family names, and in Abingdon Square I am certain some of those dear ghosts come to walk.
And still I find that I have not told the half of Sir Peter’s story! I have not told of his adventures in the Mohawk country, where he travelled from sheer love of adventure and danger in the first place, and afterward established a fine settlement and plantation; of his placing there his sister’s young son, William Johnson, later to be a great authority on matters pertaining to the Indians, and how he sent him out vast consignments of ” rum and axes,” to open negotiations with the Mohawks; how in his letter to his nephew he sounded a note of true Irish blarney, in cautioning him not to find fault with the horses supplied by a certain man, ” since he is a relation of my wife’s!” I have not told of his narrow escape from the Indians on one dramatic occasion; nor of his trip to the West Indies as an envoy of peace; nor of his services in Barbadoes which caused the people thereof to present him with a gorgeous silver monteith, or punch-bowl; nor of the mighty dinner party he gave at which the Rev. Mr. Moody said the historic grace: ” Good Lord, we have so much to be thankful for that time would be infinitely too short to do it in. We must, therefore, leave it for eternity. Amen.” I have said nothing of Sir Peter’s attack of small-pox, which left his good-looking face badly marked, if we can believe the likeness modelled by Roubilliac; norbut it would take volumes to tell the full and eventful story of this brave and gallant-hearted man, who died when he was only forty-eight, in the year 1752. It seems incredible that so much could have been crowded into so short a life. In death he was honoured quite as he deserved, for his tomb in the Abbey is a gorgeous and impressive one, and such men as the great French sculptor, and Dr. Johnson himself, had a hand in making it memorable in proportion to his greatness.
In looking over our hero’s career we are struck by the absence of shadows. One would say that so unrelieved a record of success, of honour, glory, love and wealth, so much pure sunshine, so complete a lack of all trouble or defeat, must make a picture flat and characterless, insipid in its light, bright colours, insignificant in its deeper values. But it is not so. Peter Warren, the spoiled child of fortune, was something more than a child of fortune, since he won his good things of life always at the risk of that life which he enriched; and surely, no obstinately fortuitous twist of circumstances could ever really spoil him.
His honestly heroic qualities are his passport. He cannot seem smug, nor colourless, nor over-prosperous: he is too vivid and too vigorous. His childish vanity is nobly discounted by his childlike simplicity in facing big issues. The blue and gold which he wore so magnificently can never to us be the mere trappings of rank : they carry on them the shadows of battle smoke, and the rust of enviable wounds. Let us take his memory then gladly, and with true homage, rejoicing that its record of happiness appears as stainless as its history of honour, and well satisfied to find one picture in which something of the sunshine of high gallantry seems caught, and for all time.
Dr. Johnson wrote thirty lines of eulogy of him, with the nicety and distinction of phrase which one would expect. Perhaps the simple ending of it is most impressive of all; so let us make it our own for the occasion:
But the ALMIGHTY, Whom alone he feared, and whose gracious protection He had often experienced, Was pleased to remove him from a place of Honour, To an eternity of happiness, On the 29th day of July, 1752, In the 49th year of his age.”