Gateway to the Classics: American History Stories, Volume II by Mara L. Pratt
American History Stories, Volume II by  Mara L. Pratt

Provost Cunningham

Among the "last things" of the Revolution that the colonists loved to tell, were these two stories of Provost Cunningham of the British troops.

In Murray Street, New York city, stood a little tavern called "Day's Tavern." Day had raised above his building the new American flag.

Cunningham, hardly yet ready to surrender his command, seeing this flag, marched up to the tavern door.

"Come, you cur!" he shouted to Mr. Day. "I give you two minutes to haul down that rag. I'll have no such striped rag as that flying in the face of his Majesty's forces!"

"There it is, and there it shall stay!" said Day, quietly but firmly.

Cunningham turned to his guard.

"Arrest that man!" he ordered. "And as for this thing here, I'll haul it down myself!" and seizing the halyards, he began to lower the flag.

The crowd broke into fierce murmurs, uncertain what to do. But in the midst of the tumult, the door of the tavern flew open, and forth sallied Mrs. Day, armed with her trusty broom.

"Hands off that flag, you villain, and drop my husband!" she cried; and before the astonished Cunningham could realize the situation, the broom came down thwack! thwack! upon his powdered wig.

How the powder flew from the stiff white wig, and how, amidst jeers and laughter, the defeated provost-marshal withdrew from the unequal conquest, and fled before the sweep of Mrs. Day's all-conquering broom!


A British Grenadier

Another incident is told of the same day. Sir Guy Carleton, commander-in-chief of all his Majesty's forces in the colonies, stood at the foot of the flagstaff on the northern bastion of Fort George.

Before him filed the departing troops of his king. As the commander-in-chief passed down to the boats, to the strains of martial music, the red cross of St. George, England's royal flag, came fluttering down from its high staff on the northern bastion and the last of the rear guard wheeled toward the ship.

But Cunningham, the provost-marshal, still angered by the scene at Day's tavern, declared roundly that no rebel flag should go up that staff in sight of King George's men.

"Come, lively now, you blue-jackets!" he shouted, turning to some of the sailors from the fleet. "Unreef the halyards, quick! Slush down the pole, knock off the stepping cleats. Then let them run their flag up if they can!"

His orders were quickly obeyed, and the marshal left the city. In a few minutes, Colonel Jackson, halting before the flag-staff, ordered up the stars and stripes.

"The halyards are cut, colonel," reported the color-sergeant. "The cleats are gone and the pole is slashed."

"A mean trick indeed!" exclaimed the indignant colonel.

"Who will climb the staff and reef the halyards for the stars and stripes!"

"I want no money for the job," said a young sailor lad, as he tried it manfully once, twice, thrice, each time slipping down covered with slush and shame. "If ye'll but saw me up some cleats, I'll run that flag to the top, in spite of all the Tories from 'Sopus to Sandy Hook."

Tying the halyards round his waist, and filling his jacket pockets with cleats and nails, he worked his way up the flag-pole, nailing as he went.

And now he reached the top, now the halyards are reefed, and as the beautiful flag goes up the staff, a mighty cheer is heard, and a round of thirteen guns salutes the stars and stripes and the brave soldier lad who did the gallant deed.

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