George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 24 August 1777

From Major General John Sullivan

Hanover [N.J.]1 August 24th 1777

Dear General

The Enemy having made a Descent upon Woodbridge from Staten Island & Taken about twelve of the Inhabitants and a hundred head of Cattle2 I Thought it would not be amiss to make Reprizals. I was Sensible that the Least movement of my Troops that way would Alarm the Disaffected who would Soon Communicate it to Staten Island I therefore gave out That I had received orders to march toward Philadelphia & ordered my Troops to march the 21st Instant at Two of Clock P.M. for Elizabeth Town Taking only those who were the most Active & best Able to Endure a march.3 I ordered Colo. Ogden with his & Colo. Daytons Regiment (Colo. Dayton being absent) to march opposite old Blazing Star Ferry where they were to be Joined by a hundred of the Jersey militia he was to Cross from thence So as to Land up the Fresh Kill, & Surround Colo. Lawrences Regt which Lay at the Ferry he was then to march across So as to cutt off the Retreat of Colo. Duncans & Colo. Allens Regiments & in Case he found their Force too great for him he was to take an advantageous post & hold them in play till Reinforced by me.4 my Troops were to Cross at Halseys point & one Division to Attack Colo. Buskirk who Lay at the Dutch Church near Decker’s Ferry & the other Division to proceed to the New Blazing Star to Attack Colo. Bartons Regiment Each Division Leaving a Regiment at the Fork of the Road to Cover the partys Destined to the Attack5 when we had Compleated the Rout of those Regiments we were to proceed toward the old Blazing Star to Pick up Such parties as might Escape Colo. Ogden and form a Junction with him to Compleat the Reduction of the Regiments Commanded by Duncan Lawrence & Allen if it remained to be done on our arrival—in pursuance of this plan both Divisions Crossed over before Day without any Discovery & marched to the Posts assigned them:6 Colo. Ogden with his party got Round Lawrence before Day Light & after Day we heard his firing which was Severe but Lasted a very Little Time The Colo. Charged them at once which put an End to their opposition—he as well as his officers behaved with great Prudence as well as Bravery—Several of his officers who Distinguished themselves more particularly he Desired me to mention to your Excellencey: but receiving your Excellenceys orders Last Evening7 I Instantly repaired to this place to prepare for marching which prevented me from ascertaining their names I will Take the Freedom to mention them to your Excellencey as Soon as I See the Colo. & obtain their names—while This was Doing in that Quarter General Smallwood marched with his Division to Attack Colo. Buskick where he found the 52d Regt British Incamped with Buskicks Regt This was Quite Contrary to all the Intelligence we had received he however Endeavoured to throw himself between them & their Forts & bring them to Action but being Deceived by his Guide they Ran off across a Bridge Leaving the British Standard behind them with all their Stores Tents &c.8 he Destroyed the Tents Burnt Six of their Vessels Took a Large Quantity of Baggage arms &c. Some of the officers were So much Frightned as to Run off without their Cloathes which were Secured—General De Borres Brigade marched Down to Attack Colo. Barton who Drew up his men & after firing a few Shot Ran off Toward the Ferry9 we followed them very Close but unfortunately Several Boats Laid at the Ferry which they Took & Rowed off Some to the Jersey Shore & Some into Cricks where we could not Come at them we however Secured the Colo. with a number of his men to the amount I think of 40 we Took a Considerable Number of Arms Blankets & hats as also a Considerable Quantity of Baggage we then marchd up to form our Junction with Colo. Ogden who we found had Taken Lawrence with three Captains one Lieut. 2 Ensigns & Eighty Privates with a Large Quantity of Stores & a Sloop Loaded10 the Several parties Took a great number of Horses & Cattle when I was at the New Blazing Star I Sent off a Searjent with Two men to order the Boatmen to Bring up the Boats with the mens Packs to the old Blazing Star Ferry but they having Seen the Sloop taken by Colo. Ogden under Sail Coming up the Sound Supposed it a Tender & Run the Boats up into the River which prevented the messenger from Finding them11 we had at the old Blazing Star but three Boats my Troops had marched fifty one miles & Crossed a ferry from Two of Clock afternoon of the preceeding Day to Twelve that Day besides the amazing Fatigue they had in Running through Marshes & woods to Secure prisoners & Cattle & being Disappointed of provisions I found it necessary to Cross the River12 as Quick as possible as I Saw the Enemy might take advantage by Attacking my Rear This Being a Difficulty I could by no means avoid unless by Expedition in Crossing my Troops I began it immediately & had almost Accomplished it when I Discovered the Enemy in full march to Attack the Rear they had Carefully kept out of Sight ’till they found most of our troops had Crossed & then had the Resolution to march up to Attack our Rear Guard of a hundred men Commanded by Majors Taillard13 & Steward but they Soon found that Disparity of Numbers could not Intimmidate those Brave officers & men for though they had Collected the whole Force of the Island Consisting of the 52d & part of the 57th British Two Regts of Anspanchers one of Walders & part of Seven Regts New Recruits the Brave Little party Drew up upon an Eminence Reserved their Fire till they were near up to them then gave them So well Directed a Fire that they Broke & Run in the utmost Confusion our party after giving them Several Fires retired to Another Eminence from Which they repulsed them Several times & then retired to Another which they held against the utmost Efforts of the Large Body till their Ammunition was totally Expended I had Drawn up the Troops on this Side to annoy the Enemy in Flank while I Sent over two Boats to bring them off but the Boatmen were So frightned by their Field pieces that they would not Cross Though I ordered our people from this Shore to fire upon them to Drive them over they Rowed out in the middle of the Sound & could not be prevailed upon to come to one Side or the other The officers Seeing this Thought proper to Surrender with about forty men The Rest made their Escape Some by Swimming & others by going to Amboy where I Sent to provide a Boat for them14 This would have been all our Loss had not the Enemy picked up a number of Straglers who notwit[h]standing the vigilance of their officers found means to get out of Their Ranks & Fall in the Rear Mr Skinner Sent a Flag to me yesterday proposing an Exchange of prisoners & Inclosed a List of those taken by them Consisting of three majors viz. Steward Taillard & Woodson one Captain 3 Lieuts. 2 Ensigns one Surgeon & a hundred twenty Seven privates15 So that in Prisoners they have nearly Ballanced the Accounts with us we have taken two Lieut. Colo. Commodants 3 Captains two Lieut. 2 Ensigns 1 Surgeon one Searjent Major 4 Searjents 2 Corporals 2 Drum & Fife & about 130 privates they in their Late Incursions Took twelve whigs we have Taken twenty Eight Tories we had about ten men killed and fifteen wounded two of which Dangerously among the former is Captain Herons of Colo. Hazens Regt whose bravery could Scarcely be parrelled.16 I have not been able to Ascertain the Number of Killed & wounded of the Enemy I hear it is very great & from my own observations I think in the Course of the Day They must have hadd at Least four hundred killed & wounded & among the wounded are Colo. Duncan & Colo. Barnes both mortally beside the Loss of their vessels Stores Baggage Arms Tents &ca and also A Large Quantity of Hay they had Collected which we Destroyed.17

much Credit is Due to both officers & Soldiers for their Conduct Through the whole of the Expedition—their Silence in passing over the Sound & on their march their Eagerness to Ingage & their patience under Fatigue Exceeds Description—the Enemy were So Sensible of this that they did not dare to Look them in the face till they found but a Small number could Act the others being prevented by the River from punishing their Insolence & Even from this Little party they found a resistance Seldom Equalled & never Exceeded by any Troops this the officer who came with the Flag was candid Enough to Acknowledge. I have Consented to the Exchange hope your Excellencey will approve it out of Regard to the Bravery of the officers & Soldiers of the party Ingaged who cannot well be Distinguished from the others who were Captured by their own Imprudence. I have the Honor to be Dear General your Excellenceys most obedient Servant

Jno. Sullivan


1Hanover, the village where Sullivan’s headquarters was located, lies about seven miles east of Morristown and about twenty miles northwest of Elizabeth.

2A news report in the New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury for 25 Aug. says: “Last Tuesday Evening [19 Aug.], Col. Dangan [Edward Vaughan Dongan] and Major [Robert] Drummond, of the 3d Battalion of the New-Jersey Volunteers, with about 60 Men, set out from Staten-Island for New-Jersey, marched about 27 Miles into the Interior Parts of the Province, and brought off 14 Prisoners, 62 Head of Cattle, 9 Horses, upwards of 20 Stand of Arms, and destroyed some Powder and Shot, Salt, Rum, &c. &c.”

3Marching from Hanover by way of Chatham, N.J., Sullivan’s force halted near Elizabeth between nine and ten o’clock on the night of 21 Aug. (see James Francis Armstrong’s statement, 6 Sept., in Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 1:509–11).

4The old Blazing Star Ferry, located about halfway between Elizabeth and Amboy, crossed Staten Island Sound (now Arthur Kill) to a landing place on the south side of Fresh Kill, the broad marshy watercourse that divided the western part of Staten Island into roughly equal northern and southern sections. Lt. Col. Elisha Lawrence’s battalion of the New Jersey Volunteers was stationed there, and Lt. Col. Edward Vaughan Dongan’s and Lt. Col. Isaac Allen’s battalions of that corps occupied posts on the island’s western shore south of Fresh Kill. Isaac Allen (c.1741–1806), a Loyalist attorney from Trenton, raised a battalion of New Jersey Volunteers during the winter of 1776–77, and he commanded it with the rank of lieutenant colonel until 1783, serving in Georgia and the Carolinas during the latter years of the war. Allen settled after the war in New Brunswick, where he became a provincial council member and a judge of the provincial supreme court.

5Halstead’s Point was located two-and-a-half miles east of Elizabeth on Staten Island Sound directly across from the northwestern corner of Staten Island. The Dutch Church was on the north side of the island about five miles east of Sullivan’s landing place. The new Blazing Star Ferry, located a mile or two north of the old Blazing Star Ferry, crossed the sound to a landing on the north side of Fresh Kill, about five miles south of the place where Sullivan landed. Lt. Col. Abraham Van Buskirk and Lt. Col. Joseph Barton commanded battalions of the New Jersey Volunteers.

6Gen. William Smallwood’s and Gen. Preudhomme de Borre’s brigades embarked at Halstead’s Point between two and three o’clock on the morning of 22 August. “There being only 5 Boats,” Major John Taylor said, “we did not all get over ’till near Sun rise; Colo. Ogden had crossed at the Old Blazing Starr, with about 500 men the same morning, whose men, & the separated Brigades of our Division attacked Three different parts of the Enemy, before Six” (Taylor to Moses Hazen, 24 Aug., ibid., 485–88).

8James Francis Armstrong, a volunteer with Smallwood’s brigade, said: “nothing cou’d have prevented this detachment from being as successful as the plan of the expedition entitled us, but the stupidity of our Guide [Captain Dickey], who instead of fulfilling the orders given him, by leading us between the enemy & their Forts so as to cut of[f] their retreat & throw them between us and the troops immediately commanded by Genl Sullivan [Preudhomme de Borre’s brigade], led us in front, where at the short distance of between a ¼ & ½ of a ¼ of a mile, we were exposed to the full view of the enemy—by this means Buskskarks Regt & a Regmt of British whose Colours we took had just time to make a precipitate retreat towards their forts which lay 1½ miles distant” (Armstrong’s statement, 6 Sept. 1777, ibid., 509–11; see also an anonymous British account in the New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury, 1 Sept. 1777).

9Maj. John Taylor says that Preudhomme de Borre’s brigade, which Sullivan commanded, “attacked Colo Barton between 8 and 9, instantly dispersed his Party, and pursued him down to the new Blazing Star” (Taylor’s statement, no date, in Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 1:488–90).

10Preudhomme de Borre’s and Smallwood’s brigades reunited after their respective engagements near a road junction about four miles west of the town of Richmond (Cuckold’s Town), which lies near the center of Staten Island. Followed by a combined British, German, and Loyalist force, the two brigades skirted around the upper reaches of Fresh Kill by marching east to Richmond and then west to the old Blazing Star Ferry, expecting to meet Colonel Ogden’s party along the way. That junction did not occur, however. Sullivan arrived with his two brigades at the old Blazing Star Ferry about noon and found that most of Ogden’s troops had crossed Staten Island back to New Jersey (see Edward Sherburne’s statement, 6 Sept., interrogatories to William Smallwood, 7 Sept., James Francis Armstrong’s statement, 6 Sept., and John Skey Eustace’s statement, 6 Sept. 1777, ibid., 495–511, 515–18).

11The boats at Halstead’s Point apparently moved into the nearby Elizabeth River.

12Sullivan is referring to Staten Island Sound.

13Edward Tillard (1756–1830), who had served as a captain in a Maryland flying camp regiment during the second half of 1776, became major of the 6th Maryland Regiment in December 1776. Captured with Maj. John Steward of the 2d Maryland Regiment while covering Sullivan’s retreat from Staten Island, Tillard was not exchanged until October 1780 (see GW to the Board of War, 4 Nov. 1780, DLC:GW). He was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 4th Maryland Regiment in May 1779 while still a prisoner of war, and he retired from the army on 1 Jan. 1781.

14For other accounts of this action, see John Taylor to Moses Hazen, 24 Aug., James Reed’s statement, 11 Oct., Edward Sherburne’s account, 6 Sept., interrogatories to William Smallwood, 7 Sept., ibid., 485–88, 492–509; Pearce, “Sullivan’s Expedition,” 171–72; Döhla, Hessian Diary description begins Johann Conrad Döhla. A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Norman, Okla., and London, 1990. description ends , 45–46; and the anonymous accounts in the Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia), 26 Aug., the Pennsylvania Gazette, (Philadelphia), 27 Aug., and the New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury, 1 Sept. 1777.

15Gen. Henry Clinton says that 259 Americans were captured on Staten Island (Clinton, American Rebellion description begins William B. Willcox, ed. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents. New Haven, 1954. description ends , 68 n.20), and an anonymous British account in the New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury for 1 Sept. 1777 says that “about 300 [were] taken Prisoners, including 21 Officers, viz. 1 Lieut. Col., 3 Majors, 2 Captains, 10 Lieutenants, 3 Ensigns, 1 Surgeon, and 1 Officer wounded” (see also Döhla, Hessian Diary description begins Johann Conrad Döhla. A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Norman, Okla., and London, 1990. description ends , 45–46). The lieutenant colonel was Edward Antill of the 2d Canadian Regiment (see Sullivan’s second letter to GW of this date). Tarleton Woodson (1754–1818), who had been appointed an ensign in the 1st Virginia Regiment in September 1775 and a captain in the 10th Virginia Regiment in December 1776, served as adjutant of one of the Virginia regiments during the first months of 1777, and he subsequently became major of the 2d Canadian Regiment with a date of rank of 1 May 1777 (see Richard Kidder Meade to Charles Mynn Thruston, 11 June 1777, DLC:GW). Exchanged in October 1780, Woodson left the army in the spring of 1782 (see GW to the Board of War, 4 Nov. 1780, and GW to Benjamin Lincoln, 15 May 1782, DLC:GW).

16James Gordon Heron (1749–1809) of New Jersey became a first lieutenant in the 2d Canadian Regiment in July 1776, and he was promoted to captain in November 1776. Heron was wounded and captured with several other officers while defending a house near the Dutch Church (see Pearce, “Sullivan’s Expedition,” description begins Stewart Pearce. “Sullivan’s Expedition to Staten Island in 1777: Extract from the Diary of Captain Andrew Lee.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 3 (1879): 167–73. description ends 170; James Reed’s statement, 11 Oct., and interrogatories to William Smallwood, 7 Sept., Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 1:492–95, 502–9). Apparently exchanged during the first half of 1780, Heron resigned his commission on 1 July 1780.

17An anonymous British account of the Staten Island raid in the New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury for 1 Sept. 1777 says: “Our Loss, in the whole Affair, is 5 killed, 7 wounded, and 84 missing. Among the wounded were Lieutenant Col. Dongan and Major Barnes, both Officers of distinguished Bravery. The former, a young Gentleman of uncommon Merit, both as a Man and a Soldier, is since dead of his Wounds. . . . Major Barnes, tho’ shot through the Lungs, it is hoped may possibly recover” (see also Döhla, Hessian Diary description begins Johann Conrad Döhla. A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Norman, Okla., and London, 1990. description ends , 46). John Barnes, a distiller from Trenton who had served as high sheriff of Hunterdon County, N.J., before July 1776 and who had become major of the 1st Battalion of the New Jersey Volunteers in November 1776, died nine days after he was wounded.

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