Decision Activity: Guillam Demarest, Bergen County, NJ, 1781

Decision Activity: Guillam (Gilliam) Demarest

Bergen County, NJ 1781

August, 1781 (Two months before the Battle of Yorktown)

Father came to visit today. I think this was his fourth visit to the Sugar House Prison in New York City on Crown (now Liberty Street) in four days, but my memory might be failing me — hunger tends to expand time. It feels like decades since my stomach was full. These measly rations (when we get them) would be barely enough to satisfy a small baby, let alone a nineteen-year old man. Of course, my father, David, reminds me that my hunger is my choice. I need but only swear fealty (loyalty) to the Crown, abandon my principles of liberty, and turn against the twenty-three other Patriot members of my family to no longer be hungry.

Father accused me of betraying our country, but how can I betray a country I never felt I belonged to? Our ancestors are French, not British, and we don’t even speak English at home – we speak Jersey Dutch. He is the traitor, not I.  Even my mother, Jane, doesn’t support his decision to join the British.

Father told me to join him and his refugee group. He demanded I join him. But if I join him now, what about Philip and John, my cousins? We were captured together by my father and his men, who were raiding homes in the area for food and supplies, at New Bridge in August but separated upon arrival at the prison (Lurie: Taking Sides, Page 101).

I wonder what will happen to Mother when this is all over. If the British win, will she be persecuted because she and her sons supported the American cause? Will they point to the fact that I willingly enlisted five different times (in 1777, 1778, 1779, 1780, and 1781) for the American militia?  If we win, will she be persecuted because her husband fought on the side of the British? I do not know if I will make it out of this Sugar House prison to see her again. I think I might have a fever. Two men next to me had a fever five days ago. Now, they are dead.

Oh, how I wish I could ask them what they would do….

What should Guillam do in this situation?

  1. Accept his father’s offer to take An Oath of Allegiance to the Crown?
  2. Refuse his father and remain in the Sugar House prison until the Patriots arrange for his release through a prisoner exchange?
  3. Attempt to escape from the Sugar House prison before he dies?
  4. Do something else? Explain.

Guillam ultimately chose to refuse his father’s offer and remained in the Sugar House prison for nine months. Following his release, he rejoined the American militia, where he ended up receiving a serious hand injury. In 1782, Guillam married Bridget Brower with whom he had six children. His father, David, who according to a family acquaintance, “deserted his country’s cause,” moved to Nova Scotia after the war. His mother Jane, ended up having her property confiscated because of her husband’s decision to join the British army. She remained in New Jersey with Guillam.

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