Sunday, April 25, 2021

ARP198 Raid on Old Tappan

I haven’t really focused on the continental army since we left the Battle of Monmouth, which took place in late June 1778.  Since then, we’ve gone through a bunch of episodes about attacks in upstate New York which did not really involve the main army.  I also covered a few court martials, which were taking place during this time. This week, I want to catch up on what Washington has been doing since Monmouth.  

The British had pulled out of New Jersey entirely.  They had hunkered down on Manhattan, Staten Island, and Long Island.  Washington’s Continentals camped first in Northern New Jersey, near Paramus, hoping that the French fleet would assault New York from the sea.  When Admiral d’Estaing opted to abandon that effort and move on to Rhode Island, Washington moved his army to White Plains, New York.  From there, Washington could block any overland march from New York City to relieve the British at Newport, Rhode Island.  

Kingsbridge Raid

While the Continentals dug in at White Plains, British General Henry Clinton sent 4000 reinforcements to Rhode Island via ship.  Clinton wanted to keep Washington from sending more reinforcements to Rhode Island, so he sent several regiments north to harass the Continentals at White Plains.  Clinton already had a garrison at Fort Knyphausen, formerly known as Fort Washington, on the northern end of Manhattan.  He deployed several regiments further north of Manhattan Island, to Kingsbridge, only a few miles south of White Plains.

Stockbridge Warrior

These forward detachments were mostly Hessians and local loyalists, most notably the Queens Rangers under Lieutenant Colonel John Graves Simcoe.  Another loyalist regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, and a third under Lieutenant Colonel Andreas Emmerich.  These three regiments, along with several companies of Hessian Jaegers, hoped to harass the Continentals.

 On the American side, closest to the front lines were several companies of Virginia riflemen as well as the Stockbridge Indians.

I’ve mentioned the Stockbridge Indians on a few occasions.  These warriors had lived in Stockbridge Massachusetts, where they lived in homes and had interacted closely with the colonists for many years. They had their own militia and had joined the patriot cause early on.  These men had been present at Bunker Hill, and had fought as Continentals ever since.  These were the same soldiers who stopped the British advance at Barren Hill near Philadelphia, allowing General Lafayette to escape with the main force.  They had a reputation as fierce fighters and good soldiers.  They served under the command of their Chief, Daniel Ninham.

In July, 1778, the loyalists on patrol had run into the Stockbridge Indians and had taken a number of casualties.  Simcoe, Tarleton, and Emmerich resolved to attack and destroy this menace to their men.  On the morning of August 31, Colonel Emmerich marched out to confront the Stockbridge.  The two groups began a firefight.  Although the loyalists outnumbered the Stockbridge, the loyalists began falling back slowly, while maintaining a line of fire.  

Battle of Kingsbridge, 1778 by Don Troiani

This was all part of the plan.  As Emmerich’s loyalists pulled back, the Stockbridge pursued them.  This drew them into an area where they quickly became surrounded by hundreds of the Queen’s Rangers and nearly two hundred saber-wielding cavalry under Banastre Tarleton.  They was a brutal hand to hand combat, but the greatly outnumbered Stockbridge were nearly completely slaughtered.  Chief Ninham, according to accounts, made a stand and ordered his warriors to flee.  He was cut down by a saber, as were most of his men.  Accounts differ, but the company of 50-60 warriors suffered between 17 and 37 killed.  About twenty of them managed to escape and returned to the main Continental camp.

General Charles Scott dispatched 300 Continentals, but by the time they were deployed, the loyalists had pulled back to their main lines.

Two weeks after the Kingsbridge Massacre, Colonel Mordecai Gist’s 3rd Maryland Regiment held the front line position in front of the main army.  Once again, Colonels Tarleton, Simcoe, and Emmerich developed a maneuver to trap and destroy the regiment.  Guided by local loyalists, the British forces encircled the Marylanders for a dawn attack on the morning of September 16.  They launched their assault and quickly overwhelmed the Continentals. However the British had failed to cut off all avenues of escape as planned. Gist and his soldiers escaped over an unguarded bridge and made their way back to the main Continental lines.

New England Raids

Attacks were not the only concern of the continentals.  As I said, Clinton had dispatched 4000 regulars to Newport, Rhode Island to assist in the defense of that garrison.  After the French fleet gave up and sailed for Boston, the Continentals under General John Sullivan also gave up their attempted invasion and pulled back out of Aquidneck Island.  The threat of a Continental victory had vanished.  With that, the commander of the British reinforcements, General Charles Grey, figured he should do something before returning to New York.  

Gen. Grey's 1778 raids
On September 6, his troop transports sailed to Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts.  With the support of Admiral Howe’s navy, still in the area after the French fleet had left, Grey landed near the town of New Haven.  His soldiers burned homes, looted property and seized a few suspected rebels.  All night and the next morning, the regulars terrorized locals and marched without much resistance.  A patriot fort across the river in Fairhaven fired on the ships but the garrison took massive return fire from the fleet.  The fort garrison spiked their guns and abandoned the fort.

The next day, Grey marched his regulars up the creek to a point where they could cross, then marched down the east bank to Fairhaven, where they continued their destruction.  The local militia managed to assemble about 150 men, who fired on some of the raiding party.  Not prepared for a full battle, the British returned to their ships and sailed away.

Next, Grey sailed his transports to Martha’s Vineyard.  Due to poor winds, it took the ships several days to reach the island. There, he demanded that the locals deliver 300 oxen and 10,000 sheep, as well as all their weapons and public funds.  The locals dragged their feet, taking about two days to assemble half of what the British demanded.  Grey landed several regiments who rounded up the animals, all the militia weapons and 950 pounds sterling which had been collected in taxes for the Continental Congress.

With that, the British fleet returned to New York.  Grey reported one man killed, four wounded, and sixteen missing from the mission.  He also reported his men had killed four rebels and taken sixteen prisoners with the intent of exchanging them for the missing British soldiers who were presumed captured.

New York Defenses

Washington heard about these raids, but was not terribly concerned.  He was considering an all-out attack on Manhattan.  He could take the northern half of the island, or perhaps take all of it with so many British being deployed to Rhode Island.  There is no record of Washington discussing the attack  plan with his offices, but a draft plan for the attack was found among Washington’s records.  It would have been a daring move. But without clearing the British navy from the water around Manhattan, it faced serious challenges, which is probably why Washington did not pursue the plan.

He did ask his general officers about what they thought about the probability of the success of an attack on New York.  Most of the officers rejected the idea.  Because the British still controlled the Hudson and East Rivers, they could bring up troops and artillery to use against the Americans at any time.  That was the reason they had abandoned Manhattan back in 1776.  Further, even if the Continentals took northern Manhattan, there was not much to prevent British Commander Henry Clinton from marching thousands of regulars from Rhode Island to strike at the Continental rear while the forces in New York attacked its front.  The continentals could easily be walking into a trap.  

Washington did not have very good intelligence about the British numbers and position in New York.  There were just too many variables.  So, he opted not to pursue the plan.

Ann Bates

By contrast, the British had good intelligence on American positions.  Deserters, loyalists and paid spies, including Ann Bates, a loyalist from Philadelphia, were provided General Clinton with intelligence.  General Clinton always maintained an espionage network so that he could keep tabs on the size and position of the Continentals.

Ann Bates
Bates became one of Clinton’s key assets in New York.  She was a thirty year old school teacher from Philadelphia.  She was a loyalist.  Her husband served in the British army.  During the British occupation of Philadelphia, one of General Clinton’s civilian spy recruiters, a man named John Craig, began using Bates for local intelligence-gathering.  As a woman, Bates would not raise much attention nor be seen as a threat.  

When the British evacuated Philadelphia, Bates’ husband marched with the army to New York.  Bates became a camp follower, leaving her home and most of her family behind.  In New York, she again reached out to Craig, hoping to find work.  Craig, along with Clinton’s intelligence officer, Major Duncan Drummond recruited Bates for a more difficult mission.  They proposed to send her straight into the Continental Camp to collect information.

Bates adopted the pseudonym Ann Barnes, a civilian peddler of goods.  The British provided her with money to buy a sack full of odds and ends to sell and sent her marching north to join Washington’s army at White Plains. She spent more than a week in July roaming around the Continental camp, counting soldiers and cannon, and listening in on conversations.  After selling all of her goods, she simply walked back to New York through various check points, and reported what she had learned.  

Her handlers sent her back to White Plains twice more in August, where again she gathered more intelligence, including overhearing a discussion on a planned invasion of Long Island as well as reporting on troop movements to Rhode Island.  Continental officers seemed unconcerned that this woman was capable of gathering military intelligence.  Her cover was solid, and she kept no written notes of what she had discovered.

On her third trip to White Plains, a British deserter recognized her and reported her.  Even so, she was able to elude capture and returned to British lines.  The discovery ended Bates’ undercover activity at Washington’s camp, but she continued to engage in other espionage missions for the British.


On September 16, Washington began moving his main army north from White Plains, settling in Fredericksburg, a small village a few miles northwest of Danbury, Connecticut.  From there, Washington set up defensive lines that dispersed his army from Danbury, Connecticut to Fishkill, New York.  Washington could move his army south against New York if needed, but could also march it into New England if the British opted to expand their coastal raids on new England towns into something larger.

Washington figured that if the British went on the offensive at all, it would be a thrust up the Hudson River again, in an attempt to cut off New England, or it would attack the French fleet which was under repair in Boston.  From his position, Washington could pivot easily to either location.  Washington, however, was not ready to consider any other major campaigns.  He was still wrapping up the court martials of several of his top generals, as I discussed a few weeks ago.  Several of his top officers were fighting duels with each other.  Others were unhappy about losing commands because the army had to consolidate regiments.

Once Washington left White Plains in mid-September, he was putting some distance between his army and the enemy.  As the Continentals pulled back, the frontline loyalist regiments advanced, leading to a few more skirmishes.

The British, however, were not prepared for any major offensive operations either.  General Clinton was still under orders to ship much of his army to the West Indies or other parts of the empire.  He was in no position to take and hold more territory than he already had.

Even so, Clinton still had an army in the tens of thousands, not to mention loyalist civilians, all of whom needed to be fed.  The British also needed to collect supplies for the regiments who were about to ship out to other parts of the empire.  

Much of the needed food came from Long Island.  Some was still shipped in from more distant locations.  With the immediate threat of an American attack seemingly gone when Washington's army pulled north, the British leadership turned their attention toward another source: New Jersey.

Old Tappan Massacre

The British had maintained two toe holds in New Jersey: one at Sandy Hook, the other at Paulus Hook.  Both were right on the coast where navy ships could protect the outposts.  With the main Continental army well up into New York, New Jersey defenses relied primarily on the local militia.  A year earlier, even during the forage wars, the British had held much larger areas in northern New Jersey.  They had been able to rely on the area for food and supplies.  Many of the locals were loyalists who were happy to trade with the British and who valued their protection and hard currency.

General Clinton did not want to leave large outposts in New Jersey, where they could be vulnerable to attack.  He was fine with short raids into the region in order to capture supplies.

Washington had deployed a regiment of light dragoons to the area with the goal of obtaining intelligence about British troop levels and movements.  Colonel George Baylor had only just resumed command of the regiment after several months away on a recruitment tour.  Baylor was a Virginia officer who had served briefly as an aide-de-camp to General Washington. 

Site of the Baylor Massacre
The British became aware of the presence of these Continentals.  General Grey, having returned from New England, dispatched about 600 regulars on a night raid into New Jersey for the purpose of attacking and destroying the enemy.  As he had at Paoli, Grey ordered his men not to load their muskets, but to rely on the bayonet.  He also ordered no prisoners.  Soldiers were to kill the enemy, even if trying to surrender.

The British received precise intelligence about where a dozen officers and over 100 men were sleeping on the night of September 26.  The regulars moved in after midnight and put everyone to the bayonet.  There does not appear to have been much resistance, as the sleeping Americans were caught by surprise.  There are multiple accounts of soldiers having surrendered, only to have their captors receive orders to put the prisoners to the bayonet.  A couple of men who were dispatched in this way, were left for dead, but managed to survive multiple bayonet wounds and report what had happened.

Casualty reports indicate that only 15 men were killed outright.  Another 54 were wounded or taken prisoner.  Colonel Baylor and several of his officers attempted to hide in the chimney of the home where his officers were sleeping.  The attackers found them and bayoneted the men.  Baylor managed to survive and was taken prisoner.  The British also came across New Jersey militia which they also dispatched without quarter.

The Tappan massacre, as it came to be called, was part of a larger raid by the British.  On the night of September 22, the British regiments crossed the river to Paulus Hook and began tracking the enemy.  At the same time, General Clinton assembled a much larger force of around 10,000-11,000 soldiers in northern Manhattan.  His intent was to begin a grand forage into Bergen County, New Jersey.  Clinton thought he might provoke a Continental attack, which would give his army a chance to defeat the Continentals.  If the enemy remained in their defenses, then the British would have an opportunity to sweep the region for any needed supplies.

After taking out the enemy soldiers in the immediate area, the British began collecting hay, produce, and cattle to ship back to New York.  Dozens of ships ferried supplies across the Hudson River as pickets kept guard against an attack.  

Continental General William Maxwell commanded a few regiments in Elizabethtown to the south.  Washington also deployed Major General Lord Stirling to contest the enemy’s actions in Bergen County.  Stirling used his forces to harass the enemy and succeeded in burning several ships, but the collection efforts proceeded anyway.  Similarly, General Charles Scott commanded Continentals and militia in Westchester, New York, where they made several raids and ambushes which inflicted casualties but did not deter the British from holding the field and continuing their forage.

Troop Transports

After about three weeks, the British had collected the supplies they wanted and returned to New York City.  George Washington received intelligence that the British planned to evacuate New York.  This, of course, proved false.  The British would remain in control of the city.  Clinton did, however, ship a large portion of his New York garrison as per his orders from London.

Over the next few weeks, thousands of British regulars boarded transport ships. Five thousand would go to the West Indies.  Another three thousand would go to Florida and seven hundred to Halifax.  The war with France meant that the British had to protect their colonies in the West Indies, and perhaps capture some vulnerable French islands.  The British also hoped to reclaim several southern colonies, where they believed they could rally more local loyalists to support their efforts.

For the remainder of the war, the number of British soldiers in North America would never come close to the numbers they had in 1776 and 1777.  London was writing off New England and the mid-Atlantic states for the time being.  The attempt to suppress the rebellion quickly had been a failure.  Now, the ministry had to contend with a much larger war with France, meaning North America was no longer a priority.

Clinton would never again deploy such a large force from New York City.  Although everyone thought they would resume at some point, major combat operations north of Virginia were effectively at an end.

Next week: I want to take a look at another operation taking place at this same time, involving Pulaski’s Legion and a massacre at Little Egg Harbor.

- - -

Next Episode 199 Little Egg Harbor & Pulaski’s Legion 

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Further Reading


Battle of Kingsbridge:

Hauptman, Laurence “The Road to Kingsbridge” American Indian, Vol. 18 No. 3, Fall, 2017:

Walling, Richard S. Death in the Box: The Stockbridge Indian Massacre August, 1778:

Andreas Emmerich and Emmerich’s Chasseurs:

Grey’s Raid:

Grey’s Raid:

Ann Bates:

McBurney, Christian M. “Ann Bates: British Spy Extraordinaire” Journal of the American Revolution, December 1, 2014:

The Baylor Massacre:

George Baylor:

Charles “No Flint” Grey:

Braisted, Todd W. “Massacre Averted: How Two British Soldiers Saved 350 American Lives” Journal of the American Revolution, May 20, 2014:

Schenawolf, Harry “The Baylor Massacre of the American Revolution and Earl Grey Tea: What did they have in common?” Revolutionary War Journal, October 27, 2018:

The Baylor Massacre - Sept 28, 1778, Primary Documents:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Davidson, J. N. Muh-he-ka-ne-ok, a History of the Stockbridge Nation, Milwaukee: S. Chapman, 1893. 

Simcoe's Military Journal: A History of the Operations of a Partisan Corps, Called the Queen's Rangers, Commanded by Lieut Col. J.G. Simcoe, during the war of the American Revolution, New York: Bartlett & Welford, 1844.  

Stryker, William S. The Massacre Near Old Tappan, Trenton: Bergen Co Historical Soc. 1900. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Braisted, Todd Grand Forage 1778, The Battleground Around New York City, Westholme, 2016. 

Gruber, Ira The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution, W.W. Norton & Co. 1975. 

Willcox, William B. Portrait of a General: Sir Henry Clinton in the War of Independence, Knopf, 1964. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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