Skinner’s Brigade of American Loyalists

Soon as General William Howe arrived at Staten Island, the first week in July, 1776, so pleased was he with his reception in the harbor of New York, that he wrote these
words to the British government:
“I have great reason to expect an enormous body of the inhabitants
to join the army from the provinces of York, the Jerseys and Connecticut, who, in this time of universal oppression, only wait for opportunities to give proofs of their loyalty and zeal for government. Sixty
men came over two days ago with a few arms from the neighborhood
of Shrewsbury, in Jersey, who were desirous to serve, and I understand there
are five hundred more in that quarter ready to follow their example.”

General Howe soon after this began to appoint recruiting officers in different parts of New Jersey, and to organize detachments of Provincials as fast
as they presented themselves for service in the army. Mr. Cortlandt Skinner, whose devotion to the interests of the British King before the war had
made him a prominent man in New Jersey, was selected as the proper officer
to organize and to command the men who were anxious to enroll themselves
under the standard of Great Britain. He was commissioned at first a Colonel, Brigadier-Gen. Cortlandt Skinner, and afterwards a Brigadier-General, commander of Skinner’s Brigade with authority to raise five battalions to consist of two thousand and five hundred soldiers, “under command of gentlemen of the country nominated by himself.”

General Skinner established his headquarters, while on Staten
Island, in the old Kruzer house, now familiarly known as the Pelton
house, at West New Brighton, and occupied by Mrs. General Duffy.
The two families had long been on intimate terms, and the Kruzers
were in consequence subjected to no hardships. Staten Island at once
became the refuge for all tories of New York and New Jersey, as well
as for deserters from the Continental army.

General Skinner himself seems to have been stationed on Staten
Island and in New York City during most of the war, and it is very
seldom that we meet him even with his soldiers in any other part of
the contiguous country. We learn from General Howe’s Narrative
that at the beginning of the campaign of 1777 General Skinner had
been able to recruit but five hundred and seventeen men of his complement; but in November, 1777, he had eight hundred and fifty-nine men on his brigade rolls, and in May, 1778, ” after several months of active exertions,” he had enlisted one thousand one hundred and one men.

But at that time the nucleus for six battalions had been made and
the officers commissioned. During that year five hundred and fifty
additional volunteers, mostly from New Jersey, and a few native
Staten Islanders, were enrolled for service, and afterward sent to
Charleston, South Carolina. It is then apparent that General Skinner
recruited about two-thirds of the quota first assigned to him. All of
these soldiers immediately on enlistment were placed in active service, and they began to distinguish themselves at an early day in their great zeal to annoy, intimidate and injure their former patriot friends and neighbors.

In a letter written by General Howe to Lord George Germain, dated
New York, December 20th, 1776, this remark is made: ”I cannot close
this letter without making mention of the good service rendered in the
course of the campaign by Courtlandt Skinner, Esq., Attorney-General in the Jerseys, who has been indefatigable and of infinite service since the army entered those provinces. I therefore humbly recommend him as a gentleman meriting royal favour.” Thus early was General Skinner showing his devotion to the King. This was just after Washington’s retreat through New Jersey, and General Skinner was urging his own friends to take protection from the British.

In Brasher’s Journal, February, 1777, appears the following new
catechism:

“Q. Who is the most ungrateful man in the world?

“A. Governor Skinner.

“Q. Why do you call him Governor?

“A. Because when Lord and General Howe thought that they
had conquered the Jerseys they appointed him Lieutenant Governor
of that State. Skinner assumed that title over one-tenth part of
said State and continued his usurpation for six weeks, five days,
thirty-six minutes, ten seconds and thirty-one hundreth parts of a
second and was then deposed.

“Q. Why is he called ungrateful?

“A. Because he had joined the enemies of his country and enlisted
men to fight against his neighbors, his friends and his kinsfolk; because he had endeavored to transfer the soil that gave him bread from the rightful possessors to a foreign hand; and because, to gain pleasant ease and transitory liquors, he would fasten the chains of slavery on three millions of people and their offspring forever.”

The answers to these questions clearly show the opinion which
patriotic people held of General Skinner and of the efforts which
he had already made to restore them to their allegiance to England.

In Rivington’s Army List of 1778, we find the first complete roster
of the officers of the six battalions of Skinner’s Brigade. This probably shows the state of the organization in the early part of the summer of that year. The compilation has been carefully made, the spelling of the names corrected, and it is now set forth in proper official style:

Brigadier-General, Cortlandt Skinner;

Chaplain, Edward Winslow.

First Battalion. — Lieutenant-Colonel, Elisha Lawrence; Major,
Thomas Leonard; Adjutant, Patrick Henry; Quartermaster, James
Nelson; Surgeon, William Peterson; Captains, John Barbarie, John
Longstreet, Garret Keating and Richard Cayford; Captain-Lieutenant, James Nelson; Lieutenants, John Taylor, Thomas Oakason, Samuel Leonard, John Throckmorton, John Monro, Patrick Henry and Robert Peterson; Ensigns, John Robbins, John Thompson, Richard Lippincott, William Lawrence and Hector McLean.

Second Battalion. — Lieutenant-Colonel, John Morris; First Major, John Antill; Second Major, John Colden; Adjutant. Thomas T. Pritchard; Quartermaster, Thomas Morrison; Surgeon, Charles Earle; Surgeon’s mate, James Boggs; Chaplain, John Rowland; Captains, Donald Campbell. George Stanforth, Waldron Bleau, Norman McLeod, Cornelius McLeod and Uriah McLeod; Lieutenants, John De Monzes, Thomas T. Pritchard, William Van Dumont, Josiah Parker and William Stevenson; Ensigns, William K. Hurlet and Thomas
Morrison.

Third Battalion. — First Major, Robert Drummond; Second Major, Philip Van Cortlandt; Adjutant, John Jenkins; Quartermaster, John Falker; Surgeon, Henry Dongan; Captains, John Hatfield, Samuel Hudnut and David Alston; Captain-Lieutenant, John Alston; Lieutenants, Anthony Hollinshead, John Jenkins, John Troup, William Chew, and Francis Frazer; Ensigns, James Brasier Le Grange, John Camp, John Willis and Jonathan Alston.

[Note: The Third Battalion had no lieutenant-colonel at first, when it was commanded Major Drummond. Shortly afterward, however, Edward Vaughan Dongan, formerly of Staten Island, was appointed lieutenant-colonel to command it, and he continued to serve as such until his death in 1778. ]

Fourth Battalion. — Lieutenant-Colonel, Abraham Van Buskirk;
First Major, Daniel Isaac Browne; Second Major, Robert Timpany;
Adjutant, Arthur Maddox; Quartermaster, William Sorrell; Surgeon,
John Hammell; Captains, William Van Allen, Samuel Heyden, Peter
Euttan, Patrick Campbell, Daniel Bessonet, Samuel Ryerson and
Arthur Maddox; Lieutenants, Edward Earle, Martin Ryerson, John
Van Buskirk. Michael Smith, James Servanier, Donald McPherson and John Hyslop; Ensigns, John Simonson, James Cole, Justus Earle,
John Van Norden, Colin McVane and George Ryerson.

Fifth Battalion. — Lieutenant-Colonel, Joseph Barton; Major,
Thomas Millidge; Adjutant, Isaac Hedden; Quartermaster, Fleming
Colgan; Surgeon, Uzal Johnson; Surgeon’s mate, Stephen Millidge;
Captains, Joseph Crowell, James Shaw, Benjamin Barton and John
Williams; Lieutenants, John Cougle, Isaac Hedden, Joseph Waller,
William Hutchinson, Christopher Insley, Daniel Shannon and John
Eeid; Ensigns, Patrick Haggerty, Ezekiel Dennis, Peter Anderson
and Joseph Bean.

Sixth Battalion. — Lieutenant-Colonel, Isaac Allen; Major, Richard V. Stockton; Captains, Joseph Lee, Peter Campbell and Charles
Harrison; Lieutenants, John Vought, John Hatton and Edward
Steele; Ensigns, Daniel Grandin, Cornelius Thompson and James
Service.

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Quoted From: Morris, I. K. (1898). Morris’s memorial history of Staten Island, New York. New York: Memorial Pub. Co.

Howe Invades Long Island

The capture of New York City was what General Howe desired
the most at this time, and an attack upon some other point, by which
a flank movement could be effected, and the city approached by more
accessible means than a direct attack, was expected. Long Island
and the Jersey shore both stood in suspense, ready to take alarm
at the first movements of the British in either direction. About the
8th of August deserters from the British fleet carried the news to the
Americans that Howe was taking his field pieces on board and preparing for an attack by land and water simultaneously upon Long Island and the city. On the other side the people of Elizabethtown were about the same time aroused by an alarm that the regulars were about to make an immediate attack upon that point. Every man capable of bearing arms was summoned to defend it. These alarms appear to have been without important results until the latter part of the month.

Carl Emil Ulrich von Donop
The forces of General Howe, in the meantime, were strengthened by the arrival at Staten Island of the fleet which returned from South Carolina, under Generals Clinton and Cornwallis, in the early
part of the month, and the first and second divisions of the foreign troops which arrived in the Lower bay on the 12th. The fleet which brought the latter numbered about one hundred and ten sail of vessels, on board of which about eight thousand Hessians and Waldeckers and a few English guards. All these were sent into camp onStaten Island. Estimates of the numbers on Staten Island at this time make them to be about twenty-two thousand men. The naval forces were accommodated on board the ships Asia and Eagle, each carrying sixty-four guns, and the Roebuck and Phoenix of forty-four guns each, about twenty frigates and sloops of war and above three hundred sail of transports, store ships and prizes.

The battle of Long Island — the memory of the awful carnage of
which will ever send a thrill of horror and regret to every American
heart — was planned in the famous old Rose and Crown farmhouse at
New Dorp. The state of affairs on the eve of this decisive battle is
told very effectively in a private letter, written in New York. August
22d, 1776. From it we quote :

“This night we have reason to expect the grand attack from our
barbarous enemies, the reasons why, follow. The night before last, a lad went over to Staten Island, supped there with a friend and got safe back again undiscovered; soon after he went to General Washington, and upon good authority reported,— that the English army amounting to fifteen or twenty thousand, had embarked, and were in readiness for an engagement, —
That seven ships of the were to surround this city and cover their landing, — That the Hessians being fifteen thousand were to remain on the Island and attack Perth Amboy, Elizabethtown point, and Bergen, while the main body were doing their best here; that the Highlanders expected America was already conquered, and that they were only to come over and settle on our lands, for which reason they had brought their churns, ploughs, etc.; being
deceived, they had refused fighting, upon which account General
Howe had shot one, hung five or six, and flogged many.

“Last evening, in a violent thunder storm, Mr. [?], (a very intelligent person), Adventured over. He brings much the same account as the above lad, with this addition, — That all the horses on the Island were by Howe’s orders killed, barreled up and put on board; the wretches thinking that they could get no landing here, of any consequence aud would be soon out of provisions. That the tories were used cruelly, and with the Highlanders were compelled to go on board the ships to fight in the character of common soldiers against us. The British army are prodigiously incensed against the tones, and curse them as the instruments of the war now raging.

Mr. [?] further informs that last night the fleet was to come up, but the thunder storm prevented. The truth of this appears, from the circumstances of about three thousand red coats lauding at ten o’clock this morning on Long Island, where by this time it is supposed our people are hard at it. There is an abundance of smoak to-day on Long Island, our folks having set fire to stacks of hay, etc., to prevent the enemy’s being benefited in case they get any advantage against us. All the troops in the city are in high spirits and have
been under arms most of the day, as the fleet have been in motion, and are now, as is generally thought, only waiting for a change of tide. Forty-eight hours or less, I believe, will determine it as to New York, one way or the other.”

General Howe, having signified to the admiral that it was his intention to make a descent on Gravesend bay, on Long Island, on the morning of the 22d of August the necessary dispositions of the fleet were made, and seventy-five flat boats, with eleven batteaux and two galleys (built for this service) were prepared for landing the troops.  Howe delegated the direction and superintendence of the embarkation of the army from Staten Island entirely to Commodore Hotham, by whom it was conducted with the greatest dispatch.

The troops who were to compose the second and third embarkations were, on the afternoon of the 21st, put on board transports which had been sent up from Sandy Hook to Staten Island for that purpose. At an early hour in the morning of the 22d, the Phoenix, Rose, and Greyhound, frigates, commanded by Captains Parker, Wallace and Dickson, together with the Thunderer and  Carcass, bombs, under the direction of Colonel James, were placed in Gravesend bay, to cover the landing of the army.

Immediately after the covering ships had taken their respective
stations, the first embarkation of the troops from Staten Island
commenced. These, consisting of the light infantry and the reserve,
both forming a body of four thousand men, and under the command
of General Clinton, made good their landing without opposition.
The transports with the brigades which composed the second debark-
ation, consisting of about five thousand men, moved at a little dis-
tance after the flat-boats, galleys and batteaux, and by eight o’clock
were ranged on the outside of the covering ships. The transports,
with the remainder of the troops, followed in close succession, and
before noon fifteen thousand men and forty pieces of cannon were
landed on Long Island.

Leopold Philip de Heister
Howe ordered General de Heister with two brigades of Hessians from Staten Island, to join the army on the 25th. leaving one brigade of his troops, a detachment of the Fourteenth regiment of foot from Virginia, and some convalescents and recruits, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Dalrymple, to take care of Staten Island. The landing of the troops on Long Island was effected without opposition.

The story of the awful battle of Long Island need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say the British succeeded in gaining possession of New York, which was their main object. But to keep possession
after having obtained it required a strong force, and, in consequence, the greater part of the British forces on Staten Island were withdrawn; enough, however, were left to defend it against any force the Americans might be able to bring against it. Upon the whole, the result of the battle was beneficial to the people of Staten Island, as it left fewer soldiers here to depredate upon them, and to rob them of their property.

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Quoted From: Morris, I. K. (1898). Morris’s memorial history of Staten Island, New York. New York: Memorial Pub. Co.

The Arrest of Peter Poillon

Poillon Farmhouse (now known as the Olmsted House)
General Washington wrote to the Committee of Safety, informing
it that “Peter Poillon, of Richmond County, had been arrested for
supplying the king’s ships with provisions.”  On the 5th, Poillon was
taken before the Committee and examined. He did not deny the
charge; but pleaded in extenuation that “the regulations for pre-
venting intercourse with the King’s ships had not been published in
Richmond County until the 2d or 3d of that month, and that there-
fore he was ignorant of them.” He stated further that ”he left home
with a considerable sum of money, to discharge a debt in Kings
County, together with some articles of provision for New York mar-
ket, of the value of about three pounds”; that “while passing the
warship ‘Asia,’ at as great a distance as he safely could, he was
fired at and could not escape.” He proved further, by reputable
witnesses, that he “was a respectable man, and had always been
esteemed a friend to the liberties of his country.” Poillon was dis-
charged, with a caution “hereafter to keep at a safe distance from
the King’s ship, and to warn his fellow-citizens of Richmond County
to do the same.”

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Quoted From: Morris, I. K. (1898). Morris’s memorial history of Staten Island, New York. New York: Memorial Pub. Co.

The Crisis on Staten Island–Defying The Committee of Safety

During the active movements of the British and Colonial armies in the East [Boston], all was excitement on Staten Island. The arrival of the mail-coach at Richmond Town was each day greeted by hundreds of people, and the news from the seat of war created animated controversies that resulted in hand-to-hand combats.

The population of the Island consisted of about three thousand people, including men, women, children and slaves. The men were about evenly divided in their support of the English government, and families soon became disunited and at enmity over the vital issues of the day. The first movement, however, that resulted in open disloyalty to the King; was the partial organization of two military companies which offered their services to General Washington.

Before the General’s answer could be received, the British army arrived, With all its pomp and glitter, and the inexperienced natives were so terrified that they thought it wiser to be on the stronger side, and so consented to be mustered into the King’s service.

This was a stinging blow to the patriots who were anxious that Staten Island should be in possession of the Colonial army, and they called a secret meeting at Smoking Point (Rossville) for the purpose of recruiting citizen soldiers who were opposed to the oppression of the parent government. But the leaders were betrayed and the meeting prohibited.

Before proceeding farther let us review the social and political
condition of Staten Island at the commencement of hostilities. The
geographical position of the place gave positive direction to the
political sentiments of its inhabitants. Commanding the approach
to the metropolis of the province, whoever possessed it took advan-
tage of its natural facilities in a military point of view. The Dutch
liad a fort on the heights of the Narrows, (now Fort Wadsworth), during their control; the English enlarged and strengthened it; the State of New York increased its importance during the war of 1812, and the National Government, purchasing it m 1861, has from time to time added to its importance, until it is now one of the strongest points of defence in the whole country.

Whoever, then, possessed this important point, before the Revolu-
tion, to a certain extent possessed and controlled the Island and the
metropolis. ” Whilst the English held the government of the prov-
ince, the people naturally imbibed English sentiments; freedom of
opinion on political subjects, so far as the nature and character of
the government was concerned, was not tolerated. It is not to be
wondered at, then, that a people who, for more than a century” had
been taught to believe that it was little short of treason to doubt the
divine origin of monarchy, and especially of the English monarchy,
should be conscientiously opposed to a change which was calculated
to overturn all their most cherished institutions. More than half of
the population of the Island, at the dawn of the Revolution, were
either of English birth or descent”; and many entertained the idea
that the rebellion could not by any possibility succeed. Many indeed
who favored rebellion hoped against hope.

A great majority of the early Dutch settlers were in favor of inde-
pendence, and those of French descent were about equally divided
on the question. Quite a number of the French having settled here
before the conquest of the province by the English, had intermarried
with the Dutch, who were then the dominant class, and had imbibed
Dutch opinions, manners and customs, and had even fallen into the
use of the Dutch language. In some of the families bearing French
name, and of French descent, at the present day, are to be found
family records, such as they are, written in the Dutch language.”

In February, 1775, Richmond County was represented in the Colon-
ial Assembly by Christopher Billopp and Benjamin Seaman, and
when, on the 23d of the same month, a motion was before the house
” that the sense of this House be taken, on the Necessity of appointing
Delegates for this Colony, to meet the Delegates for the other Colonies
on this Continent, in General Congress, on the 10th day of May next,”
these representatives of Richmond voted in the negative.

The character of Staten Island was now pretty thoroughly established. The people of Elizabethtown had been eagerly watching and waiting to see wliat movemeut would here be made. The stand which the Islanders would take was no longer in doubt, and the Committee of Observation of Elizabethtown on February 13th, 1775, issued the following interdict:

“Whereas the inhabitants of Staten Island have manifested an
unfriendly disposition towards the liberties of America, and among
other things have neglected to join in the General Association pro-
posed by the Continental Congress, and entered into by most of the
Townships in America, and in no instance have acceded thereto. The
Committee of Observation for this Town, taking the same into con-
sideration, are of opinion that the inhabitants of their District ought,
and by the aforesaid Association are bound, to break of all trade,
commerce, dealings, and intercourse whatsoever with the inhabitants
of said Island, until they shall join in the General Association afore-
said; and do Resolve that all trade, commerce, dealings, and inter-
course whatsoever be suspended accordingly, which suspension is
hereby notified and recommended to the inhabitants of this District
to be by them universally observed and adopted.

“GEOEGE ROSS, Clerk.”

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Quoted From: Morris, I. K. (1898). Morris’s memorial history of Staten Island, New York. New York: Memorial Pub. Co.