Roe’s Dilemma



We New Yorkers are fond of naming streets, roads and bridges after Revolutionary War heroes, but we’re not too good about telling anybody why.  As a result, each year, millions of people drive on the William Floyd Highway, Kosciuszko Bridge, and Francis Lewis Boulevard without ever knowing that these are the names of some of the heroes of our Nation’s birth.  I, on the other hand, want to know whose potholes I’m driving on, so I look these guys up.


I live near Westhampton, New York and I drive on the Daniel Roe Highway practically every day.  Wondering who Roe was, I first checked with Wikipedia and read that he was a Captain in the Continental Army in 1776.  Shortly after Washington’s defeat in the Battle of Long Island, Roe was assigned to capture a notorious Tory, Captain Miller, who was working for the British in the Westhampton area.  To make things interesting, according to Wikipedia, Roe and Miller were cousins.


Roe and his men encounter Miller not far from Roe’s house in Selden, New York.  When Miller tries to run away, he is mortally injured by one of Roe’s men.  Now Roe is faced with a dilemma: does he run and save himself or does he stay and try to save his cousin? Roe is said to have carried his cousin into his house and to have ministered to his wounds.  But as the British soldiers approach, Roe runs away, leaving his cousin to die.


What a story! Chaotic times, divided families, cowardice and compassion, and a final act that leaves you wondering… Steven Spielberg, where are you now?


Of course, no one believes Wikipedia, right?  We just go there to check the dates.  Right?  That’s why I also checked the Connecticut Courant, September 30, 1776, which presents a different version of the events.  The back-story is that many of the American Patriots who survived the Battle of Long Island escaped to Connecticut, leaving their families behind in areas of Long Island that would suffer extraordinary abuse at the hands of angry British and Hessian soldiers.  It is no wonder, then, that for months after their defeat in Brooklyn, Long Island’s exiles in Connecticut sent groups of men across Long Island Sound in small sloops and whaleboats to rescue their wives and children from the British troops.


Daniel Roe is sent in a sloop to extract as many families as he can from Brookhaven, Long Island, including his own wife and children. Roe is at his house, gathering his family, when the hated Captain Miller, who has no familial ties to Roe, rides by.  Here, the stories briefly converge, with Miller being stopped by Roe’s men, turning to escape, and being shot. But now, as the British approach, we see Roe’s real dilemma: does he run and rescue his family or does he stay and try to save his enemy’s life?  Roe makes an incredible choice.  He sends some of his men ahead with his family and children, then he stays behind, carries his dying enemy into his house and tries to save him.  It is only after Miller dies that Roe leaves his side, narrowly escaping capture, to join his family on their sail to Connecticut.


Now, that’s the story that needs to be made into a movie.  Of course, you don’t really believe what you read in the newspapers, right?  Or, for that matter, what you see in the movies?  (Say, “Right.”)  That’s why you’ll go to the real source, The Diaries of Captain Daniel Roe.  There, perhaps you’ll find the true story of Roe’s dilemma…