Patriot/Rebel Joshua Mersereau was born at Northfield, Staten Island, New York, June 8, 1759, and was living in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, when he entered the service in August, 1775, as a recruiting officer for the New York State troops for Capt Jacob Chessman’s Company, under Gen Montgomery, and served till the following November. In December 1775, he was under Lord Stirling in an expedition to Long island for seven or eight days. From April to July 1, 1776, he served under Capt Otho Williams in Maj Steven’s Corps of Virginia Riflemen.
He was then employed by Gen Washington in obtaining information of the enemy’s movements (spy); he was in the battles of Trenton and Princeton; the remainder of the winter he purchased horses for Generals Mifflin and Lafayette and, in May 1777, was engaged in guarding baggage under Lord Stirling.
In the spring of 1781, he was under Col Marsh at Rahway. In the summer of 1781, he aided in the defence of Brunswick. In May, 1782, he was engaged as carpenter and seaman on the ship “South Carolina” under Capt John Joiner and, on December 21, 1782, they were in battle with and captured by the British ships “Diomede”, “Austrich” and “Quebec”. He was wounded in the leg and confined on a prison ship “Scorpion” in New York, until paroled the last of January and remained on parole until the ratification of the Treaty of Peace.
He was allowed pension (Sur. File No. 7,224) on an application executed June 5, 1840, while a resident of Lindley, Steuben County, New York. In 1855, he lived in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, with his son James G., and he died January 20, 1857.
Joshua Daniel’s father, Joshua Mersereau III was born at Staten Island, New York, September 26, 1738, and died in Union, New York, June 10, 1804. He was educated at Kings College (now Columbia), and practiced law in New York City.
Before the Revolution, with his brother John, he conducted a leading tavern on Staten Island, which bore the brilliant title of the ‘Blazing Star.’ He and his brother ran the first line of stage coaches between New York and Philadelphia. John introduced the first post coach into the country from England.
When the revolution broke out the stages belonging to the brothers were stopped and the horses turned over to the American service for the army. Joshua assisted in raising a company for the Quebec expedition in the autumn of 1775. An edict issued from the British headquarters proclaimed John Mersereau a “Rebel,” and set a price of five hundred guineas on his head, dead or alive.
When the British seized New York city the judge came near being made prisoner. He was so radical an advocate of the American cause that the red coats formed a plan to capture him in his hotel. The judge foiled them.
When the war commenced their stages stopped running; and when New York and Stated Island fell into the hands of the British, they lost their property on the Island, which was burnt; and Judge Mersereau narrowly escaped falling into the enemy’s hands, a company having been dispatched to take him at his own house; his zeal in the American cause having been early known to them. John Mersereau turned his horses, which had been employed in the stage line, into the American service, and made an offer of himself to Washington, who often employed him on difficult expeditions, and as a spy. Esquire John La Grange’s father was employed often in the same capacity.
He was a member of the provincial assembly of New York state which met at Kinston and Poughkeepsie during 1777-86, representing Richmond county.
He was also deputy commissary of prisoners, General Boudinot being his superior officer, with headquarters at Rutland, Massachusetts, and afterward at Elizabethtown, New Jersey. His service was continuous in various capacities throughout the war. His name appears in the Staten Island records of transfers of land from 1762 to 178?, and then with other soldiers he received a grant of land for his service in the western part of the state. After the war he removed with his family to Tioga county, New York, where he was one of the earliest judges.
Judge Mersereau was appointed commissary throughout the war. He was much about the person of General Washington. The judge, with his brother, were the principal instruments in preventing the British army from crossing the Delaware river in their pursuit of Washington. Washington had crossed the Delaware about the first of December, either to escape from the enemy, who had followed him through New Jersey, or to go into winter quarters. After crossing the river, he took every precaution to move all the boats across the river, and to burn all the materials on the Jersey side, not carried over, which might be laid hold of by the enemy to construct rafts.
Gen. Washington was asked by Judge Mersereau whether he was sure he had removed out of the way all that could be employed to transport the enemy across. Washington replied he thought he had. Judge Mersereau begged the privilege of recrossing and making search. He and his brother went back and searched the opposite shore, and found below the surface of the water two Durham boats which had been timely sunk by a royalist who lived near. They raised them up, bailed out the water, and floated them over to the Pennsylvania side. When the British army came up to the Delaware shore they found no possible means of crossing, and were obliged to return back, and pursue, at this time, our army no further.
To George Washington from Joshua Mersereau, 31 August 1778
From Joshua Mersereau
Boston August 31—1778
I have Just recpd a letter from Col. Boudinot, informing me that great offence has been given, for my sending so many of the Convention officers on Parole to the enemy—and taking considerable sums of money from them for that favour.1
The latter I do deny—the former I had Authority for, or at least, Such as would Justify my Conduct, hoping To release our officers.
so soon as the Prisnors Taken by The Count De Estang, are secur’d and Provided for—and the Officers Prisnors of war, With The remaind⟨er⟩ of the 71 Rt in this State are Sent away—I propose Wating on your Excelency to remov⟨e⟩ any Doubts, or Charge tha[t]s been brought against me—if I have Err’d it’s for Want of Judgment, I have not let one man go in Without Genl Heaths approbation. I always made it a rule to consult him first—as to the mony beg the favour, of knowing the names of the Complainants, as I am confident that there is not an officer of the Convention, can say that they have given me one Single Farthing—Capt. Vigars Made me a presant of 2 pare of Pistols, tho I never Got but 3 of them one being lost.2
four weeks ago part of the 71 Rt 129 men & 84 Women and Children I sent to Providence, on their Way to new Port, agreeable to Col. Boudinots orders—they were order’d back by Genl Sulivan, and not permitted to go—I apply’d to Genl Heath for permittion to Send them by New London, New Haven or some other Rout to New York—Who refer’d me to Your Excelency for Directions, Which I shall Chearfully execute.3
I am hiring a Prisson Ship here, for the reception of the Count De Estangs Prisnors and about 40 taken by Capt. Skimer Who Was kill’d in the engagement4—5 prises ariv’d this Day—a fleet is Said to be off here some say it’s an English fleet others that it’s a French Fleet, others that they are prises5—the German officers beg the favour of staying here till the privates go in also—if they are not Exchang’d Soon; there must be Chimneys built in the barn, Where the Germains and 53 Rt are kept; as it Will be too Cold Without fire in Winter, and bad building Chimneys then beg the favour of your Excelency’s or Col. Baty’ Direction in this case, as there is no room in the Barracks for those men, I hav⟨e⟩ been oblidg’d to make many Shifts, for Want of instrutions, it having been SoDifficult to get them; in this, out of the Way place—many letters have miscarrie’d others 6 & 8 wee⟨ks⟩ before I recpd them. I have the Honor To be your Excelency’s most Obedt Hum: Servt
P.s. please to Direct to the Care of Genl Heath.
ALS, NN: Emmet Collection.
1. Elias Boudinot’s letter to Mersereau of 27 Aug. has not been identified. For more on the complaint, see Mersereau’s reply to Boudinot of 2 Sept. (NjP: Stimson-Boudinot Collection).
2. Nicholas Aylward Vigors (1755–1828) was commissioned an ensign in the British 29th Regiment in December 1769 and promoted to lieutenant in January 1772 and to captain in February 1776.
3. Mersereau announced in a letter to Maj. Gen. William Heath of 27 July that he was starting to send the 71st Regiment prisoners and that, in accordance with Heath’s suggestion, he had written to inform Maj. Gen. John Sullivan. Mersereau’s letter to Heath of 5 Aug. indicates that Sullivan had disapproved the movement, and Heath’s letter to Mersereau of 12 Aug. suggested that Mersereau consult Elias Boudinot about what to do with the prisoners (all MHi: Heath Papers). Mersereau’s request to send the prisoners to New York and Heath’s reply have not been identified. For a summary, see also Mersereau to Boudinot, 31 Aug. (NjP: Stimson-Boudinot Collection). GW referred this inquiry to Commissary of Prisoners John Beatty in a letter of 26 September.
4. The Continental Journal, and Weekly Advertiser (Boston) of 3 Sept. reported the arrival on 31 Aug. of “the Continental Brigantine of war, General Gates, whose late commander Capt. John Skimmer of this town fell on the 3d of August, in an action with a Brigantine of 12 guns from St. John’s, bound to Dominica.”
5. Mersereau was referring to a report that on 30 Aug. “almost 20 Sail of Ships, many of them large, were seen off Plymouth Harbour, standing to the Northward” (Boston Gazette, and Country Journal, 31 Aug.).
Genealogy of the Roll and Allied Families