I often use the term "First Patriot" to describe those who served in the American War for Independence or who otherwise played a role in the political thought and action leading to it. Many of my Yankee Doodle Spies Blogs describe these men and women. As I did research for the first few books in the series, a name kept appearing: Heath. More precisely, the name "Heath" was often printed across maps depicting activity
around new York, primarily in the lower Hudson valley, western Connecticut and the area today known as the Bronx (Kings Bridge). William Heath was one of those serious men, a New Englander as so many were, who remained solidly with the cause for beginning to end and served it in whatever way deemed appropriate. To be sure, there were many American officers self-serving and easily out of sorts to slights and second tier work. Not Heath, who in my opinion served professionally and effectively throughout the war.
In 1776 Heath participated in the defense of New York City, where he saw action at Long Island and was one of those who urged General Washington not to abandon the city. Heath's role involved managing the defense of the northern approaches to Manhattan. He did a credible job in maintaining a watch on potential British approaches to the island, dispatching intelligence mission,s and gathering supplies. Heath served in commands under Washington at Harlem Heights and White Plains, where he commanded the left flank of the Continental Army. In November he was placed in command of forces in the Hudson River Highlands. When Washington waged a frantic rear guard action across New Jersey to avoid annihilation in the latter months of 1776, he left Major General Charles Lee and Heath to guard the vital communications between the mid-Atlantic and New England. When Lee finally heeded Washington's summons to join him in the Jerseys, William Heath stalwartly defended the Hudson Valley. It was a command that offered no glory, only duty. After the British occupied New York City in 1776 the defenses just north of there became critically important. The continuing presence of British land and naval forces in New York emphasized the importance of the Hudson River, and both sides in the war recognized the importance of controlling that vital waterway. The Americans created fortifications, including West Point with its chain across the river. Washington assigned Continental troops under General Heath to the Highlands on November 12, 1776 and there was a Continental Army garrison in the Highlands from then until the end of the war. Heath's assignment thus created a de facto military department. The British sought to gain control with the Saratoga campaign in 1777, and frequently raided into the southern reaches of the department to interfere with the movement of military goods and personnel. One of the most notable incidents in the history of this department was the defection of Benedict Arnold in September 1780.
|British Attack at White Plains|
The Dog House?
|American Soldiers in the Highlands|
|Major General Heath commanded the critical Hudson Highlands |
during much of the War for Independence
Post War Patriot
After the war, Heath was a member of the Massachusetts Convention that ratified the United States Constitution in 1788. He served in the state Senate 1791-1792, and as a probate court judge. In 1806 he was elected the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, but declined the office. Heath was listed as an original member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati. Our First patriot, died at home in Roxbury, on January 24, 1814, and was buried nearby in Forest Hills Cemetery. The town of Heath, Massachusetts, is named in his honor.
|Heath's Monument at|
Forest Hills Cemetery