George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Israel Shreve, 6 April 1778

From Colonel Israel Shreve

Mount holley [N.J.] april 6th 1778


Last friday Evening1 a Messenger came to haddonfield from below, informing me, the Militia were imbodied to the number of 200, and Desirous to march into the Neighbourhood of Billingsport on Saturday, to Incourage them I ordered Major Howell Down with 100 men to Join them, there to Act as Should Seem Best when on the Spot, the same morning about 100 Enemy Tories marched out of Billingsport towards Sweedsborough, fell in with Capt. Fizlow2 with 50 Militia, who Attacked them kiled 5 or 6, Drove them of[f] with the Greatest precipitation, by this time Major Howell Got to Sandtown3 4 miles from the fort, hearing they were out, pushed Down to the fort, Got within one mile, when the Enemy Returned by a Back Road, the fort being Alarmed, and the Militia Not Comeing up, the Major Returned, takeing one Waggon, and 5 Tories, our post at Haddonfield being Exceeding week, the major Got in that night Leaveing Capt. Bowman with 50 men at Woodberry.4

The Enemy Giting intellegence of our movement, Detatched 600 Light Infantry Commanded by Col: Abbercrombe, to Gloucester point, there Crosed, By Some means Surround 4 Vedets, one of them Rode his horse through Newtown Creek, Gave the Alarm at half past two Sunday morning. I Immediately Got the men under arms, the Stores and Baggage Loaded, thought it most prudent to move off, haveing Good information of their intentions and Rapid march, I ordered one horseman to Woodberry, another to Coopers ferry, where we had a Guard of 40 men & 2 horsemen, Lieuts. Stout and Hutchin of my Regt, with orders to Collect his Guard and make his Retreat Good over Coopers Creek Bridge,5 half after three the Enemy Entered the town, we had Lost it about 10 minutes, upon a Signal they Gave three Huzzays, and Immediately Stove open the Doors, wounded Several Inhabitants, Burnt 2 houses (belonging to Quakers) plundered the town, and Returned by way of Coopers ferry.6

Mr Sage a Volunteer Horseman, that I Sent to the ferry Returned Just as the Enemy had Entered, he Cut his way througt them 200 yards, then Dismounted and Left for Dead, haveing Receiv’d fourteen Wounds with Bayonets he is yet alive,7 Major Ellis (of Militia) being officer of the Day, was at the ferry,8 Lt Stout prudently Got his Guard together and Retired over the Bridge according to Orders, Major Ellis as Imprudently ordered him Back to his post, the Enemy pushed Down Cut of[f] their Retreat, Lt Stout who is a brave officer fought them a Considerable time, untill overpowred by Numbers was forced to Give way, no Retreat Left Some Broke through others Swam Coopers Creek and Got off, the 2 horsemen Got off, Eleven prisoners was Taken among them Major Ellis, Lts Stout & Hutchin Stout Received 2 wound, before he Surrendered, two of my Regt was found Dead on the Ground, one of them Bayoneted, Some were kiled in the Creek, Several are yet missing, this Guard were part Militia, the Enemy Immediately Crossed the River to the City, three Deserters Came in, who Informs me their arms were not Loaded But their Orders was to Give no Quarters, and to plunder the town for Incouragement, these orders was Red to them by their Col. before they Crossed, Our men being much fateagued for two Days with marching and Loss of Sleep, I thought Best to Retire to this place, Leaving 50 men below, to move from place to place And stot9 the Tory trade.

I fear If not Reignforced the Enemy will Ravage Great part of the Lower Counties, A prise from Cork Now Lies at or near the forks of Egharber, with 200 Barrels of Beef, 50 of pork, upwards of 2000 firkins Rose Butter, 51 peices Linnin, &c. this Cargo is taken for the use of the Army But not Yet Removed,10 this port Cannot be Safe If a post is not kept at Haddonfield.

I hope your Excey will pardon me for So Often ⟨mutilated⟩ a Reignforcement, I fear true Representations from this Quarter has not been made, I mean to Represent things Just as they are I Should Send a Return of what Militia I have But Cannot Obtain it, they Do not Exceed 150, I am your Excellencys very Huml. Servt

I. Shreve Col.


1The previous Friday was 3 April.

2Shreve may have been referring to Felix Fisler of Fislerville (now Clayton), N.J., who served as a captain in the 2d Regiment of Gloucester County militia from August 1777 until at least August 1780.

3Sandtown, N.J., also called Berkely, was a village in Greenwich Township, Gloucester County, on Mantua Creek, about four miles southwest of Woodbury.

4Nathaniel Bowman (d. c.1789), who had been commissioned a second lieutenant in the 2d New Jersey Regiment in November 1775, was promoted to first lieutenant in May 1776 and to captain by September 1777. He was promoted to major of the 3d New Jersey Regiment in February 1783 and served to the close of the war. These movements and the subsequent British response were reported in the New-Jersey Gazette (Trenton) of 8 April.

5John Hutchins (1722–1782) was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 2d New Jersey Regiment in February 1777 and promoted to first lieutenant in December of that year. He was captured at this engagement and did not rejoin the army. Abraham Stout (1754–1821) was appointed a sergeant in 3d New Jersey Regiment on 7 Feb. 1776 and was promoted to ensign in October and to lieutenant of the 2d New Jersey Regiment in November 1776. Captured at this engagement, he was exchanged in December 1780. Cooper’s Creek Bridge was about one mile from Cooper’s Ferry.

6This engagement was reported in the Royal Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia) of 7 April: “Information being received, that a body of the rebels, consisting of about 300, with two field pieces, were collected at Haddonfield, a party of the light infantry were sent down the river in boats last Saturday night to Gloucester Point, from thence they marched to the above-mentioned town; but the rebels being apprized of their danger, very prudently withdrew.—Six of their number being left in a house, fired on the troops, who soon forced it, and put the catifs to the bayonet; one of their sleepy light horsemen shared the same fate in the street. On their return, they received intelligence, that about forty of those vermin were lodged near Cooper’s Ferry, on which they directed their march to that spot, in such a manner, as to surround, and, after a short skirmish, in which several were wounded, made thirty-six of them prisoners; amongst whom were, one Major and two subalterns. They were brought to town on Sunday morning, and lodged in the Provost guard. During the excursion, the troops received no injury.” The Hessian officer Friedrich von Muenchhausen, Gen. William Howe’s aide-de-camp, wrote that “We captured the commanding major, two lieutenants, and 58 rank and file. One captain and some men were left on the field” (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 , 50). British officer Archibald Robertson noted that the British force engaged was “the 1st Battn Light Infantry” and recorded still different casualty figures: “Kill’d An Officer an[d] 10 or 12 men and took 3 Officers and 31 men Prisoners” (Lydenberg, Robertson 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 , 166). For other British and Hessian accounts, see Whinyates, Services of Francis Downman description begins F. A. Whinyates, ed. The Services of Lieut.-Colonel Francis Downman, R.A., in France, North America, and the West Indies, between the Years 1758 and 1784. Woolwich, England, 1898. description ends , 58; 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 , 162; and Gruber, Peebles’ American War description begins Ira D. Gruber, ed. John Peebles’ American War: The Diary of a Scottish Grenadier, 1776–1782. Mechanicsburg, Pa., 1998. description ends , 173. On the American side a supplement to the Maryland Journal, and Baltimore Advertiser of 21 April reported that “A Small Guard, with some straggling Soldiers, were surprised, several of them were put to the Bayonet, and the Rest made Prisoners.”

7For a later version of the incident involving Miles Sage (b. 1758), see Mickle, Reminiscences of Old Gloucester description begins Isaac Mickle. Reminiscences of Old Gloucester, or Incidents in the History of the Counties of Gloucester, Atlantic, and Camden, New Jersey. 1845. Reprint. Woodbury, N.J., 1968. description ends , 67; see also Cushing and Sheppard, History of the Counties of Gloucester, Salem, and Cumberland description begins Thomas Cushing and Charles E. Sheppard. History of the Counties of Gloucester, Salem, and Cumberland, New Jersey, with Biographical Sketches of Their Prominent Citizens. 1883. Reprint. Woodbury, N.J., 1974. description ends , 35. A Miles Sage was a captain in the militia for Lower Gloucester Township in 1793.

8William Ellis (1730–1785), a major of the 2d Regiment of Gloucester militia, had been commissioned a captain in Col. Silas Newcomb’s regiment of New Jersey militia in June 1776 and had been promoted to major by July of that year. Captured at this engagement, he was exchanged in December 1780.

9Shreve probably meant to write either “stop” or “stol” (stall).

10GW was already aware of this prize. On 4 April, John Chaloner, an assistant commissary of purchases at Valley Forge, wrote New Jersey governor William Livingston, “I have the Honor of informing you that it is the order of His Excellency the Commander in Chief to the purchasing Commissary of the Middle Department to purchase the Cargo of the prize lately arrived into Egg harbour consisting of Butter Beef Pork &c&c to have the same immediately removed to a place of safety & brought on for the use of the Army with all possible expedition & as the effecting of this with that dispatch the nature of the case requires may interfere with the Laws of the state of N. Jersey in two Instances . . . His Excellency has desired me to solicit your aid to Justify Jos. Hugg Esqr. Colo. Blaines Assistant for purchasing the Cargo before Condemnation as also to advice with you the respecting the Continuance of the Waggons in the service for the Necessary duty” (Ephraim Blaine Papers, DLC: Peter Force Collection). The Forks of Little Egg Harbor was a shipbuilding and privateering settlement on the Mullica (Little Egg Harbor) River above Chestnut Neck. The prize was probably the brig Carolina Packet, which had been captured by the sloop Scorpion commanded by John Brooks. That brig’s captain, William McCollam, was sent to GW’s headquarters in early April (see 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 , 221–23; see also New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, 27 April).

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