George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Adam Stephen, 12 May 1777

From Major General Adam Stephen

Chatham [N.J.] 12th May 1777


I can now with propriety Congratulate your Excellency on a Certain and Considerable Advantage gaind over the Enemys best troops; by the Continental Troops of My Division.

Col. Cooks Pen. Regt begun the Attack, supported by the 1st Regt of that State; They behavd well, & the Captains Chambers & Par distinguishd themselves.1

Capt. Phelps of Col. Wards Regimt behaved well & the few men that were with him did honour to the Corps.2

The Combatants in the first Onset were within 50 yards—some of them nearer, & None further off than 100 yards.

The Conflict continued half An hour, when the Enemy gave way, leaving three Officers & thirty Nine men dead on the ground our people took possession of.

The Enemy were Reinforced, & the Continental troops Supported by 150 Virginians, Compell’d them to give way again, wt. Considerable loss; but as the Action had by this time Continued upwards of an hour; & our Videt discoverd about 2,000 men within a quarter of a Mile, on their way from Brunswik.

The troops were prudently withdrawn, in the very Nick of time.

We have three killd, three Officers & 12 privates Wounded a Leut. of Capt. Chambers Company Col. Cooks Regt & 4 men taken We have lost Several Straglers taken plundering the Dead—I am Convinced the Enemy have at least 200 killd & Woundd.

It was a Bold Enterprize; It was the time, & Rapidity of the Attack that Secured us the Success we met with.3 I have the honour to be sr your most Obt hube Sert

Adam Stephen


1Stephen Chambers (d. 1789) was named a first lieutenant in Col. William Cooke’s 12th Pennsylvania Regiment in October 1776, and he was promoted to captain in March 1777. Chambers retired from the Continental service on 1 July 1778 when the 12th Pennsylvania Regiment was incorporated into the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment. Severely wounded in a duel in May 1789, Chambers died a short time later. James Parr, who had been a first lieutenant in Col. William Thompson’s Pennsylvania rifle regiment from June to December 1775, continued in that rank in the 1st Continental Regiment after 1 Jan. 1776. He was promoted to captain in that regiment in March 1776, and on 1 Jan. 1777 he became a captain in the 12th Pennsylvania Regiment. Named major of the 7th Pennsylvania Regiment in October 1778, Parr served in that capacity until January 1781, when that regiment being disbanded, he retired from the Continental army.

2Noah Phelps (1740–1809) of Simsbury, Conn., who had participated in the capture of Ticonderoga in May 1775, was appointed a captain in Col. Andrew Ward’s Connecticut state regiment in the spring of 1776. Returning to Connecticut after Ward’s regiment was disbanded later this month, Phelps was in August 1777 named lieutenant colonel of a regiment of Connecticut militia levies that was subsequently ordered to assist in the defense of Rhode Island. He became colonel of the 18th Regiment of Connecticut militia in 1778 and major general of the state militia in 1796.

3Stephen’s account of this engagement with the British 42d Regiment and a battalion of British light infantry on 10 May in the vicinity of Bonhamtown and Piscataway, N.J., a short distance east of New Brunswick, is mirrored in accounts contained in the anonymous extracts of letters that appeared later this month in the Philadelphia newspapers. The inclusion of the sentence, “It was a bold enterprize,” in the two different extracts printed respectively in the Pennsylvania Journal; and the Weekly Advertiser of 21 May and the Pennsylvania Gazette of 28 May suggests that they were written by Stephen or one of his aides-de-camp. The extract from a letter of 20 May written at “Ash swamp” that appears in the Pennsylvania Evening Post of 24 May reads: “Last Saturday week Gen. Stephen ordered eight hundred men, from different regiments, to muster at Col. Cook’s quarters, about nine miles from Matuchin meeting-house. In the afternoon they marched over Dismal swamp, and advanced to the place where the enemy kept their picket, and where the enemy, having observed our motions, had collected about three hundred, whom our advanced guard engaged for some time, and making a feint retreat over a narrow causeway, turned suddenly upon the enemy, and repulsed them with a considerable slaughter. By this time we were reinforced with six companies of light infantry, and other troops, when the skirmish became general, was pretty warm for some time, and the enemy gave way; but [they] being reinforced with a large body and artillery from Brunswick, we were at last obliged to retreat to a hill, they not daring to pursue us. The next morning we sent a flag to Bonamtown, desiring a list of our men; in the afternoon we received it, according to which they had one subaltern, whose leg had been cut off, and twenty-three privates prisoners, most of whom were wounded, and also informed us of two of our men killed.

“By the best accounts from the inhabitants since come out of Brunswick, the enemy had near a hundred killed, and many wounded; this may seem very extraordinary, but when you consider that we had a number of good riflemen, and many excellent marksmen, well posted in the woods, and other suitable places, the enemy in the open field, and frequently in confusion, I think you will be reconciled to the probability of their loss so far exceeding ours. This action was conducted by Gen. Maxwell, and the troops were Jerseymen, Pennsylvanians and Virginians.”

British and Hessian accounts of the engagement differ greatly from Stephen’s account and the accounts in the Philadelphia newspapers. An anonymous British writer says in the New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury of 19 May: “Last Saturday Se’nnight about 4 o’Clock in the Afternoon, a Body of 2000 Rebels, which had been collected from the neighbouring Posts of Quibbletown, Samptown, Westfield, Chatham, &c. commanded by Brigadier Generals Stevens and Maxwell, attacked the Picquet of the 42d, or Royal Highland regiment, at Piscataway, commanded by Lieut. Colonel [Thomas] Stirling.—The Picquet, which was in a short Time supported by two Companies, advanced into the Wood, where, notwithstanding the very superior Number of the Rebels, they maintained their Ground until they were joined by the Rest of the Regiment, when a very heavy Fire commenced; which obliged the Rebels to retreat in the greatest Confusion towards their Left, where they fell in with the Light Infantry, quartered between Piscataway and Bonham-Town, who were advancing to support the 42d. The Whole of the Rebels now gave Way, and fled with the utmost Precipitation, our Troops pursuing them close to their Encampment, (on the Heights near Metuchen Meeting-House) which they began to strike with the greatest Terror.

“The Ardour of the Troops was so great, that it was with difficulty they could be restrained from storming the Encampment; but Night coming on, they were ordered to return to their Cantonments, in this Affair we had two Officers and 26 men killed and wounded. The Loss of the Rebels must have been very considerable, as upwards of 40 were found next Morning in the Woods, besides an Officer and 36 Men taken Prisoners” (see also Lydenberg, Robertson’s Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 131, 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 , 1:117–18, Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 86–87, and Muenchhausen, At General Howe’s Side description begins Friedrich von Muenchhausen. At General Howe’s Side, 1776–1778: The Diary of General William Howe’s Aide de Camp, Captain Friedrich von Muenchhausen. Translated by Ernst Kipping. Annotated by Samuel Smith. Monmouth Beach, N.J., 1974. description ends , 12).

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