February 15, 1783

Written by James from New Windsor

The winter of 1782 dragged on as James Davenport was encamped with the Continental Army at New Windsor, New York. This particular letter hints at the religious education that Davenport must have received as a child in Dorchester. Like many young Americans, he would have learned to read and write with the Bible as a primary learning and teaching tool. Two of his references – to a coming “jubilee” in which the soldiers would become free and to making bricks without straw under strict taskmasters – would have been familiar to most people as both common idioms and ideas rooted in Christian tradition. And both references helped Davenport convey the increasing resentment he felt at his situation, stuck in an army waiting for peace. “We hope to get free from our Slaveng soon,” he wrote.

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"Publick Jubilee coming when those that are Bound get free"

James Davenport was using this phrase in its traditional and Biblical meaning to mean a pivotal anniversary year that brought liberation. Ancient Jewish and Christian traditions set aside years on a 50-year cycle in which lands would remain fallow, property be returned to original owners, and enslaved people liberated.

"make Bricks without straw"

This was an longstanding metaphor for impossible work, and James Davenport was probably also drawing on the tyrannical implications of this phrase's origins in the Bible's Book of Exodus, 5, when Pharoah ordered "the slave drivers and foremen in charge of the people" to "no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw."

Family & Friends

Hannah Davenport Wales and her son Ebenezer Wales were James Davenport's aunt and cousin. Jonathan Wiswell was a friend from Dorchester whose sister married James's brother, Samuel. Thomas Clapp was the brother-in-law of James Davenport’s aunt, Hannah Davenport Wales.

"in favour of Corp Bland"

This note suggests that James Davenport's letter may have been carried home by another soldiers, a Corporal Bland.

"Mr Nath Topleff "

Nathaniel Topliff was a Dorchester friend of James Davenport.