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To George Washington from Major General Philemon Dickinson, 28 November 1777

From Major General Philemon Dickinson

Elizabeth Town [N.J.] Novemr 28th 1777

Dear Sir

Having obtained the fullest Information, respecting the Strength & Situation, of the Enemy upon Staten Island, & made the necessary Preparations, I called in many Volunteers, whose Numbers, in addition to those who were on Duty at this Post, amounted to about 1400 Men, with this Detachment, I landed Yesterday Morning before Day, upon the Island, from Halsteads Point—The whole Strength of the Enemy, were drawn to this side of the Island, & extended from the Blazing Star, to their former works; Genl Skinner with five Regiments of Greens, were quartered in different Parts, about three hundred Waldeckers with Genl Campbell lay at the Works, in which were light cannon with a company of Artillery, cover’d by a fifty Gun Ship, & a Sloop of War—I landed in three Divisions (having the best Guides) & intended to have march’d bye roads, in order to get in the rear of the Greens, & cut off their Retreat—the Divisions proceeded as far as was intended, (7 Miles) & then met at the appointed Rendezvous, but to my great disappointment, they secured their retreat in the Works, by the most precipitate flight, Genl Skinner, Col: Allen & many other officers having narrowly escaped—We drove in all their Pickets with little opposition, & now & then skirmished a little with them as they fled—I kept my Design as much as possible, not having communicated it, to the Field officers, untill 8, OClock the Evening before, but notwithstanding all my precaution, Mr Skinner recieved the Intelligence at 3, OClock in the Morng which frustrated my Plan—I flatter’d myself, I should have had the Pleasure, of giving your Excellency a good account of the General & his Green Brigade, which undoubtedly would have been the case, had he not unluckily have received the above Information1—We made the following Prisoners—vizt two Lieutenants, (one Col: Buskirks Son) one Surgeon, one Commissary, & twenty Privates—Mr Hud of Brunswick among the Numbers—& killed five or six Greens—our loss was, three Men made Prisoners, & two slightly wounded2—In justice to both officers & Men, I must inform your Excellency, they behaved well, & wanted nothing but an opportunity, to have done honor to the State they belong to, their Expectations were great, & their Spirits high. I was astonished the Enemy had not collected, & formed upon some advantageous Ground, this I expected would have been the case; & proceeded with caution—They came down in a Body, to play the old Game upon our Rear, this I expected, & was sufficiently prepared for, having thrown up a small Work at Halsteads Point, & placed two Field Pieces in it, from which we kept up a brisk fire, & soon dispersed them—After remaining on the Island Eight hours, & driving them within their Works, we made an easy & secure retreat—not having lost a single Man, Horse, or Boat—By a Flag just come over, I am informed they say, in excuse for their Gallant Behaviour, that we were joined by 2,000 Continental Troops—had it not have been strong tide of Flud, by which means, they might easily have been reinforced from N. York—as General Putnam only intended a Feint there, & their having two Gondola’s, & an armed Sloop, lying in the Sound, I should have remained in Possession of the Island for the Day; those considerations & the Troops being much fatigued, as the Night was very cold, & they obliged to march thro’ much water, determined me to return—which reasons, I hope will mee⟨t your⟩ Excellency’s approbation.

⟨I pr⟩oposed to the Governor, to march most of the Men ⟨from th⟩is Post to the Southern Part of this State, to serve out ⟨th⟩e remainder of their Time, (indeed the whole Force should have marched long ago, but the Council would not consent) if I am not forbid, shall take the Liberty of sending on six hundred of the best Troops early tomorrow Morng which Detachment, I shall accompany—the Weather is very bad, but hope it will clear up this Eveng.

My Indisposition, being much fatigued, & very wet in crossing the river, prevented my giving your Excellency the above Information earlier.

A Fleet consisting of 25 Sail, is just arrived at the Narrows, said to come from England, & to have brought over some of the New raised Irish Regts. I have the honor to be, Your Excellencys most Obt Servt

Philemon Dickinson

ALS, DLC:GW. The text in angle brackets is mutilated. Dickinson also signed the letter’s cover.

1British officer Stephen Kemble’s journal entry for 27 Nov. also reported minor skirmishing on that date: “The Rebels Landed upon Staten Island in Force, from one thousand to seventeen hundred; proceeded as far as General Howe’s Head Quarters, but there turned about and fled to their Boats, where they Embarked; the loss of either side is so little worth mentioning that we shall not say what it was” (Kemble Papers description begins [Stephen Kemble]. The Kemble Papers. 2 vols. New York, 1884-85. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 16–17. description ends , 1:145).

2These prisoners all served in Gen. Cortlandt Skinner’s Loyalist corps of New Jersey Volunteers. Jacob Van Buskirk (b. 1760) of Bergen County was a lieutenant in the 3d Battalion, commanded by his father, Lt. Col. Abraham Van Buskirk. Van Buskirk returned to his battalion after his exchange. He was promoted to captain in May 1780 and was wounded at the Battle of Eutaw Springs, S.C., in September 1781. Van Buskirk settled in Nova Scotia on British half-pay after the war. Edward Earle (1757–1825), also of Bergen County, was commissioned a lieutenant in the 3d Battalion in November 1776. Earle, whose property was confiscated by the Americans in 1778, was promoted to captain in July 1781, and after the war he settled in New Brunswick, Canada. John Hammell (born c.1755) of Windsor in Middlesex County served as a surgeon in Col. Philip Van Cortlandt’s regiment of New Jersey militia from July 1776 to November 1776, when he deserted and joined Van Buskirk’s 3d Battalion. Hammell also settled in New Brunswick, Canada, after the war, receiving British half-pay to 1801. John Brown (died c.1780), a cooper from New Brunswick, N.J., and a former commissary for the American forces, apparently served as both a deputy commissary and guide for Skinner’s corps. The New Jersey council of safety on 31 Nov. ordered Van Buskirk, Earle, Hammel, and Brown “committed to Trenton Jail for high Treason” (N.J. Council of Safety Minutes description begins Minutes of the Council of Safety of the State of New Jersey. Jersey City, 1872. description ends , 167). GW recommended against trying the four men for treason, and after a grand jury failed to bring in a bill of indictment against them, the council turned them over to Elias Boudinot as prisoners of war (see William Livingston to GW, 1 Dec., and note 2, GW to Livingston, 11 Dec., and Charles Pettit to Elias Boudinot, 1 Jan. 1778, in NjP: Thorne-Boudinot Collection). “Mr Hud” of New Brunswick, N.J., may be James Hude, Jr., son of the former mayor of New Brunswick, James Hude, Sr.

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