George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Elias Dayton, 24 January 1781

From Colonel Elias Dayton

Chatham [N.J.] Jany 24th 1781


On Sunday morning1 I was alarmed with an account that the Jersey brigade had revolted, were directing their march this way and were in the neighbourhood of this place. I immediately desired the officers of the detachment upon this station to sound the sentiments of the men under their immediate command, who soon discovered that they had no inclination to join with the seditious part of the brigade, but rather chose to avoid them.2 I gave permission to the major part of these to retire to their own homes, and such of the remainder as were not prevailed upon to join them, were directed to lay at Springfield until further orders.3

When the revolters were collected, the commissioners appointed by the assembly to enquire into & redress the grievances of the brigade with myself acquainted them with what powers we were vested and at the same time assured them that when they returned to their duty & not till then, we would hear and treat with them.4 A point which they strongly contested was that their own oaths should be admissible in determining the terms of their enlistments as with the Pensylvanians;5 this we did not think proper by any means to grant them and they finally gave it up. They marched this day on their return to the huts with Colo: Shreeve only, where they have promised again to put themselves under the command of their officers. As soon as the men who were permitted to go out of the way, are collected, I shall detach a guard with the cannon to Morris town and send on, the others to the huts. As I am not without my fears, that, when they discover they are not discharged agreable to their wishes by the commissioners, they may again become seditious and not consider themselves amenable to the orders of their officers, I would wish to be instructed by your excellency, whether in that case it would not be adviseable to call in the militia, who, I am of opinion can be at any time collected for that purpose, and make use of more vigorous measures to humble them.

I am happy to acquaint your Excellency that I am greatly recovered, altho my health and strength are not yet sufficiently establish’d to warrant my continuance in camp at this season of the year.6

The enemy are now putting on board of vessels, quantities of military & ordinance stores, in which ’tis also said that troops are to be embarked, their destination is entirely unknown. May not the British have in expectation a general revolt of the army, and from these preparations, have their eye upon West point?7 I am Sir your Excellencys most obedient and Hbl. servant

Elias Dayton

P.S. Enclosed is a copy of the pardon granted the mutineers—several of which did not comply with it, who are proper objects, & whom I would wish to see made examples of.8

LS, DLC:GW. The lack of a reply bothered Dayton (see his letter to GW, 17–20 Feb.).

1The previous Sunday was 21 January.

2For the detachment from the New Jersey brigade sent to Chatham, see Israel Shreve to GW, 8 Jan., and n.1 to that document. The part of the brigade camped at Pompton, N.J., had revolted (see Shreve to GW, 20 Jan.).

3Springfield, N.J., is about four miles east of Chatham.

4For the appointment of these commissioners, see Frederick Frelinghuysen to GW, 20 January.

5For the acceptance of oaths in the case of the Pennsylvania mutineers, see Arthur St. Clair to GW, 17 January.

6For Dayton’s illness and absence from the army, see Matthias Ogden to GW, 13 Nov. 1780.

7These preparations likely related to making ready a fleet of merchant vessels bound for England. The fleet embarked invalids and discharged soldiers going to Europe. It sailed from New York Harbor on 31 Jan. (see the entries for 23 and 30–31 Jan. in Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:460, 464–65).

The British in New York did not learn of the revolt of the New Jersey troops until the evening of this date. British major Frederick Mackenzie wrote in his diary entry that “about 10 o’Clock” the intelligence came that mutineers “were moving towards Elisabeth town with an intention to come over to us. Orders were immediately given for the 17th & 57th Regiments, The Landgrave’s Regiment, and the two Battalions of Anspach to be in readiness to move on the shortest notice” (Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:462; see also Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs [1971] description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs from 26 August 1778 to 12 November 1783 of William Smith. . .. New York, 1971. description ends , 380; Ford, Journals of Hugh Gaine description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed. The Journals of Hugh Gaine, Printer. 1902. Reprint. [New York] 1970. description ends , 2:109; and the misdated intelligence report in “Clinton’s Secret Record,” description begins “Sir Henry Clinton’s Original Secret Record of Private Daily Intelligence.” Contributed by Thomas Addis Emmett, with an Introduction and Notes by Edward F. DeLancey. Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries 10 (1883): 327–42, 409–19, 497–507; 11 (1884): 53–70, 156–67, 247–57, 342–52, 433–44, 533–44. description ends 10:331). Writing from New York City on 25 Jan., Lt. Gen. James Robertson resumed a letter to British military advisor Jeffrey Amherst begun the previous day: “Last night I had notice that the Jersey Brigade had revolted, that the Militia and they had fired on one another—the General has put a body of troops under my orders, they wait here in readiness to embark—I am just going to Staten Island to try to treat, the troops will move on my signal, and if the revolters agree I will go into Jersey to cover them—the spirit of defection runs thro’ the whole rebel army, the fire will not go out if we can blow it up with fair conditions, pardon, payment, liberty to serve or to retire, if I can but get some of them to come and treat in the name of the rest I think something may be done to end the war” (Klein and Howard, Letter Book of Robertson description begins Milton M. Klein and Ronald W. Howard, eds. The Twilight of British Rule in Revolutionary America: The New York Letter Book of General James Robertson, 1780-1783. Cooperstown, N.Y., 1983. description ends , 169–74, quote on 172). On 25 Jan., Robertson and Maj. Oliver De Lancey, Clinton’s deputy adjutant general, went to Staten Island “to endeavor to communicate with the Jersey troops, and induce them to join us” (Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:462). For De Lancey’s communications, see Van Doren, Mutiny in January description begins Carl Van Doren. Mutiny in January: The Story of a Crisis in the Continental Army now for the first time fully told from many hitherto unknown or neglected sources both American and British. New York, 1943. description ends , 213–14. Clinton later wrote that these communications proved as “equally ineffectual” as the ones sent to the Pennsylvania mutineers (Willcox, 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 , 242).

8The enclosed document, dated at Chatham on 23 Jan., reads: “The Commandant of the Jersey Brigade in answer to the petition of the Sergeants for a general pardon, observes that in consideration of the Brigade’s haveing revolted before they were made acquainted with the resolution of the legislature directing an inquiry into their enlistments and of their agreeing immediately upon their being informed of said resolution to return to their duty and of their haveing neither shed blood nor done violence to the person of any officer or inhabitant; he hereby promises a pardon to all such as immediately without hesitation shall return to their duty and conduct themselves in a soldierly manner. Those who shall, notwithstan[d]ing this unmerited proffer of clemency, refuse obedience, must expect the reward due to such obstinate villainy” (DLC:GW).

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