Monday 14 February 2011: What's love got to do with it?
In a word, nothing - except that I have a great affection for the derelict mansion called Cwrt (Court) that I blipped here, and I set aside today to visit the County Records Office to do some research on it. I knew that the house was built for the Gwynne family in the early 1800s but the archives included earlier documents. My attention was immediately seized by a bundle of letters dated 1777 to 1781, the correspondence of Daniel Gwynne, then probably in his early 20s and an ensign in the 9th Regiment of Foot which had been sent to North America as part of an expedition to wrest the New England colonies away from Revolutionary Army.
Daniel did not have a good war. In August 1777 he reports that after an initial victory at Ticonderoga, the British suffered a huge defeat at Bennington in the Hudson River valley and the army, of which Daniel's regiment was part, surrendered. It seems he was reported dead and a surviving document informs his family and requests instructions as to what should be done with his two trunks (contents listed: full kit from regimental greatcoat to handkerchiefs and drawers!) Luckily this was a mistake but in his next letter home he complains that "upon our march to the colony of Massachussets Bay my Servant deserted and took with him two horses with all my Baggage and a Considerable sum of money and left me nothing but what I had on my Back. Cloathing is so very dear that you cannot get a Yard of Scarlet cloth for under Forty Dollars Paper Currency".
The captured force was marched to Charlottesville, Virginia from where in 1780 poor Daniel writes to brother Bill "I have not been happy enough to receive but one letter from you for near 4 years... As to my brother John I suppose he is too much engaged with Homer and Horace to write to me that is in the Wars of America". (This brother, John, was articled to an attorney not far from home.) The conditions in which the prisoners were held in Virginia were, by all accounts, very hard. They suffered from cold, disease, lack of food and shelter. As an officer, Daniel could at least receive family support and his surviving letters home revolve around requests for funds.
By October 1781 Daniel has reached New York and is heading home in the first available fleet, the troops having been paroled under an agreement that they would not fight in America again. He has no sympathy for the Independence cause: "I shall attempt to give you the outlines of a Rebel," he writes to Bill, "to give you an idea of one you must read Hudibras, add to that as much Knavery, Roguery, low cunning and all kinds of Villainy under the Mask of Religion as you can well put together..."
After this, the existence of a Pembrokeshire landowner may have seemed rather tame: hunting, shooting, fishing, farming and the social round comprised the main occupations. I have yet to discover how Daniel's subsequent life turned out but I suspect that his is one of the lichen-encrusted family graves that occupy part of the churchyard in the valley below.