George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Nathaniel Heard, 14 May 1777

From Brigadier General Nathaniel Heard

Pumpton [Pompton, N.J.] May 14th 1777


Yesterday morning the new recruits from Bergen under the Command of Colls Barton & Buskirk—came up to Paramus with about 300 Men—with an intent to Surprize the Detachment I had there—about 70 Men—under the Command of Captains Fell & Berry1—The Enemy ariv’d there about the Break of day—and Surround[ed] the Houses our Men had Quarterd at the day before, but Fortunately, Capt. Fell who had receivd Some information of Some of them being Seen at Hackinsack the Evening before, prudently moved their Quarters about Ten OClock at night—or they Certainly must have fallen into the Enemys hands—The morning being Somwhat Hazy, by which the Enemy coud not know their own Men and Suppose not rightly consulting each other of any Signal—they began a very warm fire at each other and continued Some time—& Capt. Fells Men Still on their backs fireing away—put them in Some confusion—and am inform’d made Coll Barton Trimble and Sware they wold be all Cut off for the Rebels had intirely Surrounded them—when at the Same time it was his own Men. daylight appearing they with Shame found the Error they had committed—and immediately collected in a Body and marchd off—The number they lost cannot assertain—but the inhabitants Saw about Ten of their Men killed and carried off in one Pile—& Several Wounded—amongst which was two of their Captains—and one or two other Officers—There was one out Sentry on our Side killed—and two taken prisoners—one two Horse Team & Some Blankets—taken, which was all the damage Sustain’d on our Side—none wounded.2

By every account Capt. Fell and his Men Behaved exceeding well and Harrassed their Rear when they marchd off for four Miles.

Whenever I receivd the Express Capt. Fell Sent immediately Collected all my Men at this place—about 400 and marched of with all expedition—and after marching about 7 Miles, recd information of their being entirely gone off—upon which we return’d—except a reinforcement of 100 Men which I had Orderd the Evening before to be Stationd there—& have this day Sent another Small party down—which will make them about 200 strong.

I am really in great want here of Light Horse Men and would be exceeding glad your Excellency would Order a few—About ten days past I sent an Express to Capt. Nixon at Cranbury3—for part of his Troop—agreeable to your Excellencys consent—but Genl Putnam thought he could not Spare any at that time—and have heard nothing from them since. I am sr Your Excellencys Most Obt Servt

Nathaniel Heard


GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison replied to Heard on 15 May: “I am commanded by His Excellency to inform you, that he wishes you to detach such of your Troops, as are not necessary for the defence of your Post and carrying on the works you are erecting to Paramus and that Neighbourhood, under proper officers, to protect the Country and deter the Tory Levies from seizing and committing depredations on the Inhabitants. What ever officers, your Situation will enable you to spare, upon this business, should be cautioned to use the utmost care and vigilance, to secure themselves against the attempts and Surprises of the Enemy, who, in all probability, mortified at what happened the other night, will try to attone for it by another enterprise. It will be prudent for them to move and change their Stations frequently, which will puzzle the Enemy and keep them in a State of constant uncertainty” (DLC:GW).

1Ebenezer Berry was a captain in the 4th Regiment of the Hunterdon County, N.J., militia. He was promoted to major in April 1778.

2The British account of this action that appeared in the New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury for 19 May bears little resemblance to Heard’s account: “Last Monday Afternoon [12 May], a Detachment of his Majesty’s Provincial Troops, consisting of 300 Men, under the Command of Lieutenant Colonels [Joseph] Barton and [Edward Vaughan] Dongan, marched from Bergen Town, in order to attack the redoubted General Heard, who lay at Pompton with a Party of Rebels of 350. The various Impediments, occasioned by Morasses, &c. rendered it impossible for the Troops to reach the Place by the Time intended; Col. Barton, who commanded, held a Consultation, wherein it was determined to take the Road to Paramus, and destroy some stores said to be deposited there, under a Guard of 80 or an hundred Men. Col. Dongan was previously detached with a small Party to Saddle River and Slotterdam, in order to surprize a Party of Rebels, under the Command of Capt. [David] Marinus, and two others. The Colonel arrived at the Place at the Dawn of Day [13 May], made the Attack, carried his Point, took the Captain, his Lieutenant, and Three others, together with a small Cask of Powder, some Ball, eight or nine Stand of Arms, a Drum, and some other Articles. In this Skirmish the Colonel had the Misfortune to have Capt. Hardnut, a worthy Officer, wounded in the groin by a Bayonet, but not mortally. Col. Barton marched on to Paramus, drove the Rebels from their strong Holds, and obliged them to retreat to the Woods.—The Bravery of the Provincial Troops on this Occasion does them Honour” (see also the New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury, 16 June 1777).

3Robert Nixon (1749–1818) became captain of a troop of Middlesex County, N.J., light horse in January 1777, and in October 1777 he was appointed first major of the county’s 3d Regiment of militia.

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