1814: Gen. Sylvester Dering to Rev. Whitfield Cowles

This letter was written by Gen. Sylvester Dering (1758-1820) who lived on Shelter Island in Peconic Bay at the Eastern end of Long Island. Written in the midst of the War of 1812, Dering shares his fears that the prospects for peace look doubtful and blames American citizens in New England for aiding the British.

The Dering family was related by marriage to the Sylvester family and it was through this connection that Thomas Dering eventually became the proprietor of the Sylvestor Manor, an Inn on Shelter Island. The L’Hommedieu family was also connected to these family. Ezra L’Hommedieu (1734-1811) lived in Southold on the shores of Peconic Bay. After his death, his wife – the Mary Catherine (Havens) L’Hommedieu – became the proprietor of Sylvester Manor. It is undoubtedly her that Dering refers to as “sister L’Hommedieu” in the letter.

Whitfield Cowles

When the British army occupied Long Island during the Revolutionary War, Sylvester Dering’s father, Thomas Dering –with other patriot families — had to vacate his home and property on Shelter Island and take his family – including his son Sylvester – to Middletown, Connecticut. After they war, the family returned to Shelter Island but found that the British had chopped down all the trees on their property and damaged their home. Knowing this, it’s understandable that Sylvester Dering considered the outlook dismal in the War of 1812, which was still underway.

The letter was addressed to Rev. Whitfield Cowles (1764-1840) who served the Presbyterian Church on Shelter Island at one time but was living in East Granby, Connecticut in 1814. He was the husband of Glorianna Havens (1774-1802), who was a sister of Mary Catherine (Havens) L’Hommedieu. Rensselaer Havens, mentioned in the letter, was probably also a brother. Years later, Rev. Cowles got into silverplating – a business that was continued by his son William B. Cowles.

Stampless Cover

Addressed to Rev’d Whitfield Cowles, Turkey Hills, Granby, Connecticut

Shelter Island [New York]
April 6th 1814

Dear Brother,

I have received your letter of the 3d ult. I have no money in sister L’Hommedieu’s hands but owe her and cannot give you an order on her for the money I have received on your account. And having some money in Brother Rensselaer Haven’s hands in New York, I have written to him to pay your draft on him for one hundred & fifty dollars thinking it a safer way for you to get the money than sending it by mail, as I presume [you] may find some merchant in Hartford that will pay you the money & take your draft on Mr. Havens.

I was very sorry to hear of the sickness of your children & rejoice to hear they were on the recovery when you wrote & pray God they may be restored to health again. Through the goodness of God, we are well except Mrs. Dering & Sally who have bad colds & coughs. We all desire to be remembered to you & family.

The British have not as yet visited us. About a fortnight ago, three of their barges came into Sterling in sight of my house and took away their Smacks [i.e., fishing boats] that lay there but did not land. They have possession of Plumb Island and are watering their ships from that place. If the war continues, & I see no prospect for peace, I think we shall be very much afflicted with them before summer is out. The divisions in our country are such, & the British so many more friends in New England that will loan them money than will loan t to our own government, that I feel we are to be destroyed. A house divided against itself cannot stand. I have it from good authority that more than ten millions of dollars in silver & gold have been drawn from the banks of N. York & the Southern States by the people of New England & sent to Nova Scotia & Quebeck & there sold for bills on the British government for 35 percent advance. And by Admiral Warren’s letter to the commander of the fleet off New London, we are informed the good people of Connecticut are to supply them with a loan & a ship is to be provided to send the money to Bermuda where it appears they are short of cash. Thus situated, the affairs of our country have a very gloomy aspect.

Yours &c. – Sylvester Dering


For Resource Link, Click here.

For biographical information on Cowles, click here.


3 responses to “1814: Gen. Sylvester Dering to Rev. Whitfield Cowles

  • sally cowles

    I was surprised to find this site. My husband and i live in Rev. Whitfield’s house….he the 3-gr-grandson of Whitfield. The house is on the Ct. state historic register and recently now also on the national historic register. We have a large body of letters and misc. “paper trail” that I have shared with many historians. Several years ago one such sharing ended with at least 1 missing letter. This is not one of them, but I am curious where you got it and if you would considering selling (or giving) it to the family. I will appreciate a reply. Thanks so much, Sally Cowles

    • Griff

      Sally. Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately I do not own this letter. As a hobby, I transcribe old letters for an acquaintance of mine who buys and sells them on e-bay. In return for this service, he gives me permission to publish them on my Spared & Shared Blogs so that the contents may be preserved for family researchers & historians. This letter was probably sold about two years ago. This letter was of particular interest to me because my ancestor, Jasper Griffing, was a resident of Southold, Long Island and the Griffing property was adjacent to that of the L’Hommedieu family. Jasper’s grandsons were mariners and helped to evacuate the Long Islanders — including the Dering Family, I believe — to Connecticut during the British occupation. If you have a nice photograph of the Granby House I could use on this blogsite, I’d appreciate a copy. — Griff

      • sally cowles

        Thanks for your quick reply…I do not have a clue how there sites work, but I have a great picture of the house circa 1902 before massive reno took place and of course many pictures of the house as it looks now …I will try and get my son to help me send them to you…ok? Sally

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