George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Livingston, 1 May 1779

From William Livingston

Trenton [N.J.] 1 May 1779

Dear Sir

There are about 20 Jersey lads in the State who have deserted from Count Pilaskis Legion. They were inlisted till September, & were induced to inlist in expectation of being of Major Beckquots corps.1 He was afterwards appointed to command a number [of] Hessian deserters on account of his speaking their language;2 & those lads put under french officers whom they could not understand, & were by that means frequently exposed to punishment which they did not mean to deserve. If they are orderd to South Carolina, their time of Service will be entirely consumed in going & returning.3 They offer to surrender themselves upon Condition of being under Major Bacquot & serving in Jersey or coming to Head Quarters & serve for the time left by their desertion Bacquot thinks as they are well acquainted with the County of Monmouth, they would be of great use in taking the robbers in the Pines, especially with the guidance of Mr Van Kirk who with great address lately took a party of them, & has deserved public notice.4 I don’t pretend to determine on the propriety of receiving those people upon terms, & mean only to lay the matter before your Excellency for your consideration—Major Bacquot can inform you more particularly—I have the honour to be with all possible respect Dr Sir Your Excellency’s most humble Servant

Wil: Livingston


1Livingston is referring to Maj. Daniel Burchardt.

2For the abortive recent attempts to raise a corps of Hessian deserters, see Carl Friedrich Führer and Carl Wilhelm Kleinschmit to GW, 24 Dec. 1778.

3Congress had ordered Pulaski’s legion to South Carolina on 2 Feb. 1779 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 13:132).

4John Van Kirk (1751–1834) served during the war as a private in the Monmouth County, N.J., light dragoons, and also as a dispatch rider. On 3 Feb. the New-Jersey Gazette (Burlington) printed an “Extract of a letter from Monmouth Court-house, January 29, 1779,” describing Van Kirk’s recent exploits against the Loyalist raiders inhabiting Monmouth County’s pine barrens: “The Tory-Free-Booters, who have their haunts and caves in the pines, and have been for some time past a terror to the inhabitants of this county, have, during the course of the present week, met with a very eminent disaster. On Tuesday evening last [26 January] Capt. Benjamin Dennis, who lately killed the infamous robber Fagan, with a party of his militia, went in pursuit of three of the most noted of the Pine-Banditti, and was so fortunate as to fall in with them, and kill them on the spot.—Their names are Stephen Bourke, alias Emmans, Stephen West and Ezekiel Williams. Yesterday they were brought up to this place, and two of them, it is said, will be hanged in chains. This signal piece of service was effected through the instrumentality of one John Van Kirk, who was prevailed upon to associate with them on purpose to discover their practices, and to lead them into our hands. He conducted himself with so much address that the robbers, and especially the three above-named, who were the leading villains, looked upon him as one of their body, kept him constantly with them, and entrusted him with all their designs.

Van Kirk, at proper seasons, gave intelligence of their movements to Capt. Dennis, who conducted himself accordingly.—They were on the eve of setting off for New-York, to make sale of their plunder, when Van Kirk informed Capt. Dennis of the time of their intended departure, (which was to have been on Tuesday night last) and of the course they would take to their boat: In consequence of which, and agreeable to the directions of Van Kirk, the Capt. and a small party of his militia planted themselves at Rock-Pond, near the sea shore, and shot Bourke, West and Williams in the manner above related. We were in hopes at first of keeping Van Kirk under the rose, but the secret is out, and of course he must fly the county, for the tories are so highly exasperated against him, that death will certainly be his fate, if he does not speedily leave Monmouth. The Whigs are soliciting contributions in his favour, and from what I have already seen, have no doubt that they will present him with a very handsome sum.” Van Kirk later sought further compensation from the New Jersey legislature, without success (see Prince, Livingston Papers description begins Carl E. Prince et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–88. description ends , 3:30–31).

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