A History of the 1st Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers
This battalion was the first Loyalist corps formed after the arrival of the British Fleet in New York Harbor at the end of June, 1776. Anywhere between 47 and 60 men from Monmouth County pushed off in a small vessel to British held Staten Island, having little else but their personal arms and "a stand of colours" to start their military career.
Led by the young and vigorous Lieutenant Colonel Elisha LAWRENCE, they were commissioned 1 July 1776 as the 1st Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers. These initial officers and recruits would form the nucleus of the corps that would later grow in size and activity.
The battalion took no active role in the campaign that took New York City that year, instead helping keep the garrison at Richmond, Staten Island and learning the art of soldiering. Their first taste of action came unexpectedly in October of 1776 when the Rebel General Mercer landed on Staten Island, making off with some British and Hessian prisoners, but no Jersey Volunteers.
The reality of civil war was brought home to them on the 6th of the same month when Sergeant Lewis BARBER became the first New Jersey Volunteer killed in action, shot while in a guard boat on the kills between Staten Island and New Jersey. His death was sadly the first of many in the battalion over the course of the war.
LAWRENCE's battalion, along with John MORRIS' 2nd Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers, had their chance of returning to their native land by entering New Jersey in December of 1776, part of the British forces chasing after Washington on his retreat from Fort Lee. The two battalions went about Monmouth County almost with impunity, raising several hundred new recruits, capturing scores of prisoners and generally helping the British exert control over the state.
Their fortunes began to change with Washington's victorious attack on Trenton and his subsequent victory at Princeton. Washington's return to New Jersey was most unfortunate to the battalion's major, the elderly Thomas LEONARD, who was made a prisoner in Trenton at the end of December. LEONARD would spend the next two years as prisoner, only to find upon his exchange that he had been "seconded" or retired upon half pay.
The battalion retired in January following to form part of the British Garrison at New Brunswick, where they would continue to recruit and train. Shortly thereafter a captain's detachment of about 40 officers and men was sent to replace the men of the 2nd battalion garrisoning Sandy Hook. It would continue the New Jersey Volunteer garrison there that would remain until 1782 when the post was taken over by British regulars. This would become the only piece of New Jersey actually garrisoned by any part of the regiment continuously through the war, and be the jumping off point for many raids in the country.
With the evacuation of New Jersey in June of 1777 by Sir William HOWE to start his Philadelphia Campaign by sea, the battalion retired to Staten Island, its new home for the next five years. Here they lay quietly until the morning of 22 August 1777 when 2,000 Continental troops under Major General John Sullivan burst onto the island, surprising the battalion in their camp and, after a very brief resistance, capturing LAWRENCE, several other officers and about 80 other ranks from the unit.
With no field officers now, the command of the unit passed on to Captain Alexander MacDONALD. MacDONALD commanded the remnants of a unit that was rapidly disintegrating due to desertion and illness after the loss of so many men in Sullivan's raid. Quarrels broke out among the surviving officers and several riots occurred among the men.
The only bright spots were the bringing in of about 30 new recruits from Cumberland County by Captain Richard CAYFORD and the garrison at Sandy Hook. The latter post, led by Captain Garret KEATING and Lieutenant John TAYLOR, made several successful forays into New Jersey, destroying some salt works along the shore and also capturing a sloop full of supplies.
On 25 April 1778 steps were taken to bolster the strength of the NJV and make them more useful administratively and in combat. The 5th and 6th battalions were merged into the 1st and 3rd respectively, effectively doubling the size of these units. The command of the "new" 1st battalion was up in the air, as both Elisha LAWRENCE and the old 5th battalion's commander, Joseph BARTON, were both then prisoners with the Rebels.
This was resolved in the beginning of July of 1778 when BARTON was exchanged first and assumed command of the unit, leaving LAWRENCE to retire well before his time on half pay. This event would become a serious point of contention and source of friction for the remainder of the war. The officers of the 5th battalion, primarily from Sussex County, were extremely loyal to BARTON, while those of the old 1st battalion remained attached to the memory of Elisha LAWRENCE and resented BARTON's presence and command.
To make matters worse, LAWRENCE had two relatives still serving actively as subalterns in the battalion - John and William LAWRENCE. Further complexities were introduced when upwards of 40 men from John VAN DYKE's West Jersey Volunteers were added into the battalion in September of 1778. These men, mostly from Cumberland, Gloucester and neighboring counties also resented being amongst men they were not closely associated with and under officers with whom they had not enlisted. Several deserted almost immediately.
The bad feelings associated with these mergers should not be overlooked in examining the effectiveness and cohesion of the unit for the remainder of the war. The ill feelings between the officers of the two counties would occasionally explode into shouting matches and insubordination on the field. Richard CAYFORD, an ally of LAWRENCE, was put under arrest twice by Barton 1779, which eventually lead to his being cashiered in October of that year. To make matters worse for BARTON, his chief foe now became his commanding officer, Brigadier General SKINNER, openly a friend of LAWRENCE.
This would culminate in Barton's arrest, trial and humiliation in 1781 for ten counts of misconduct and disobedience of orders, for which he was sentenced to be reprimanded at the head of the battalion under arms. This forced his transfer out of the unit for good by the end of the year to be replaced, not by LAWRENCE, but by Stephen DeLANCEY, formerly of the Prince of Wales' American Volunteers and the 2d Battalion, DeLANCEY's Brigade.
When not feuding among themselves, the battalion or detachments thereof did find some time for action. A detachment served under the famous Captain Patrick FERGUSON of the 70th Regiment on his night attack on Pulaski's Legion at Egg Harbor in October of 1778. The battalion as a whole would once again serve under FERGUSON during West HYDE's unsuccessful attempt to capture a regiment of the New Jersey Continental Line in April of 1779.
A party under Lieutenant William HUTCHISON and Ensign James MOODY in early June of that year successfully captured several officers and men of the Monmouth County Militia and then drove off their pursuers at the point of the bayonet after expending all their ammunition. MOODY himself shot dead a militia officer who was in the act of cursing him across the battlefield, so personal was this war between Rebel and Loyalist. This was soon after followed by 40 men of the battalion with a like number of British regulars capturing a number of militia light horse in a tavern after killing their officer, Captain Skinner.
The winter of 1779-1780 was to prove the most severe in memory for the New York area. The freezing of New York Harbor, reportedly as far down as Sandy Hook, coupled with the bulk of the British Army upon an expedition to South Carolina, led to a reduced New York garrison wide open to attack. Unbeknownst to the British though, Washington's army was in no shape for a winter attack on the British.
If Washington himself was unsure of this, all doubt was removed when a force of near 3,000 Continentals under General Lord Stirling made an attempt on Staten Island on 16 January 1780. While the British and Loyalist troops simply retired into their fortifications, the Rebels froze in the deep snow and sub freezing temperatures. Five hundred men were reportedly sent off the island frost bitten that night. Their prize for this cost and the loss of about twenty killed and captured was one soldier from BARTON's 1st battalion captured, along with several others from another Loyalist regiment, the Volunteers of Ireland.
An interesting side note to this event occurred on the eve of Stirling's attack. Ensign John LAWRENCE of the 1st battalion was involved in a bizarre alcohol induced bar-room brawl with an officer of the Queen's Rangers who had purportedly slandered the NJV. The matter was resolved the next evening with pistols at close range, LAWRENCE being slightly wounded by the Queen's Ranger officer, who was shot dead. A subsequent court martial cleared LAWRENCE of any wrong doing in the matter.
There was quick retaliation. A force of 120 officers and men of the 1st and 4th battalions, commanded by Lt. Col. Abraham VAN BUSKIRK of the latter and guided by the distinguished partisan Captain Cornelius HATFIELD, crossed over the frozen kill by foot and silently crept through the deep snow to Elizabeth Town, where they captured 47 officers and men of the Maryland Line and Essex County Militia by complete surprise.
These small successes (and others) of the British, coupled with the extreme wants of clothing and provisions suffered by Washington's troops that winter, led to the desertion of hundreds of Continental troops to the Crown. Many of these deserters found their way into the ranks of the NJV, altering their makeup again.
Many of these deserters deserted again, some back to the Continentals and others to Loyalist privateers, or simply home. Not only were these deserters not "true" Loyalists but most weren't even from New Jersey. Many were from Pennsylvania and Maryland, whose units had been closest to Staten Island and hence had the easiest route of escape. It was certainly an interesting mix of soldiers and personalities!
With the coming of spring that year, the battalion quickly became active again. Elisha LAWRENCE, on half-pay but serving as Brigade-Major to General SKINNER, led men of his old unit from Sandy Hook to Squan in April, capturing an officer and several Continentals. At the same time, men from the detachment at the light house under the command of Lieutenant Samuel LEONARD (son of the retired major), made an easy capture of several dozen Rebel sailors thrown onto the shore from two beached New England privateers.
The battalion as a whole would see much more important service in June of 1780, when they would join with the 4th battalion and 5,500 British, German & Provincial soldiers on a thrust into New Jersey, culminating in the Battle of Connecticut Farms. Retiring to Elizabeth Town Point, they would man the lines next to the prestigious British Brigade of Guards until June 23rd, when they set off once again, this time for the Battle of Springfield.
The battalion was heavily engaged in flanking the line of march for the Guards, eventually facing off in an orchard against men of the New Jersey Continental Line, another example of Jerseyan against Jerseyan. The two battles served no purpose other than inflicting numerous casualties on each side, including the death of Ensign William LAWRENCE in battle. This would prove to be the last battle for the battalion as a whole during the war.
For the remainder of the war the battalion would maintain garrison duty at various posts. An untimely loss of forty men, half from the 1st and the other from the 4th battalions, occurred in October of 1780 when a vessel carrying the relief for the Sandy Hook garrison was captured by a Rebel privateer. The majority of these men would remain prisoner for the duration of the war.
During 1781 the unit was in an extreme state of flux due to the arrest of Joseph BARTON for, amongst other things, having men of the unit build frames (pre-fabricate) for houses that BARTON sold in New York City. A patrol under one of his sons (two of which were subalterns in the battalion) did generate some excitement by capturing a Rebel raiding party on Staten Island that summer, which was shortly after followed by the capture of over 30 militiamen in New Jersey that July.
A small detachment of 30 men from the light house just prior to this served in a raid of 1,000 men led by Brigadier General SKINNER on Pleasant Valley, New Jersey. The raid produced but very little cattle at the cost of several British and Hessian soldiers killed, wounded and captured. A brisk action also commenced in late August of 1781 when a force of Rebels under the bold Asher Fitz-Randolph attacked the works at Richmond, Staten Island but were repulsed. These would mark the last significant actions of the unit.
There were two more alterations to the composition of the battalion prior to the end of the war. In July of 1781 the 2nd battalion was drafted into the 1st and 4th battalions due to their being under strength. The 1st battalion received one company of their officers and men, primarily Loyalists from Monmouth County and some Rebel deserters.
In April of 1782 one last company was added, bringing the battalion up to its authorized strength of ten. This company was the late corps of Loyal Foresters, a unit raised the prior year by Lt. Col. John CONNOLLY of Virginia. These men were recruited at New York City and Virginia and consisted mainly of American and French prisoners of war and deserters. Many of them would desert the NJV prior to the end of the war.
The 1st and late 4th battalions would leave Staten Island for good in the early summer of 1782, when they would return to their native New Jersey for the last time. The battalions, along with some German contingents from Waldeck and Anhalt-Zerbst, would form the garrison of Paulus Hook, present day Jersey City. It was here that they would be reviewed by His Highness Prince William Henry and the British Commander in Chief Sir Guy CARLETON -- a final mark of honor for years of service.
From this point on, with the war lost and peace on the horizon, despair set in on the rank and file. Many who had not seen their families in years deserted home. Others set about committing crimes of robbery and plundering on the inhabitants. These men would face court martial, with several being sentenced to serve in the West Indies, and one, Thomas JOHNSTON, sentenced to serve in Senegal, Africa!
The Volunteers were removed from Paulus Hook in October of 1782, moving first to New York City, then Brooklyn and finally Newtown, Long Island, where they would finish the war alongside most of the other Provincial regiments then in garrison. Numerous leaves were granted for soldiers to return home and bring in their families.
Lt. Col. DeLANCEY led a first contingent of officers and men to Nova Scotia in June of 1783, where they would search for suitable lands to settle the remainder of the battalion. The 3rd of September witnessed the mustering out of all those who wished to remain behind in New York, either permanently or temporarily. The others then set sail for "the River Saint John" Nova Scotia, which in two years time would be the new Province of New Brunswick, in modern Canada.
Here the officers, soldiers and their families received free grants of land for their service, as well as provisions for the next three years. Laws passed by the new state governments, New Jersey included, precluded their returning home, although several rank and file of little note did so without much fuss. The 1st Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers would pass into history on 10 October 1783, the official date of their disbandment, having served over seven years in the British service.
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