Military Organization at the Outbreak of War

Below is a review the militia system of the Province of New York,
of which Staten Island was then a part, at the commencement of the Revolution.

The military forces of the colony were divided into three classes, viz.:
The Line, which regiments were in the United States service under General Washington; the levies, which were drafts from the different militia
regiments, and from the people direct as well, and which could be called upon
to serve outside the State during their entire term; the militia,
which then, as now, could only be called out of the State for three
months at a time. Of the Line, there were nine organizations; of
the levies, seven; and of militia, sixty-eight — eighty-four in all.

Associated exempts were a unique class, and were authorized by
act of April 3, 1778. They comprised: “All persons under the age
of sixty who have held civil or military commissions and are not or
shall not be reappointed to their respective proper ranks of office,
and all persons between the ages of fifty and sixty.” They could only
he called out “in time of invasion or incursion of the enemy.”

The following citizens of Staten Island served in the various
organizations of the New York militia during the Revolution. The list
has been collected from many sources:

Colonel Goose Van Schaick’s First Regiment. — John Bedle, Moses
Bedle, Abel Buel, Ezra Buel, John Decker, Abraham Deforest, Jona-
than Eldridge, David Force, Thomas Gleeson, John Haycock, Thomas
Hynes, Abraham Lambert, John Lambert, John Merrill. John Pearce,
David Reany, Thristian Rynders, John Rynders, and Samuel Totten.

Colonel Philip Van Cortland’s Second Regiment. — Richard Barnes,
William Biddle, George Boyd, Christopher Darrow, Christopher
Decker, Edmund Frost, John Hanes, Obadiah Holmes, Stephen Holmes,
Simon Lambertson, Nathan Lewis, John Lusk, Peter Mayhew, Cornelius
Post, Henry Post, John Sprague, Abraham Weeks, and Harmanns Wandall.

 

Colonel James Clinton’s Third Regiment. — Obadiah Ammerman,
John Banker, Thomas Banker, Henry Barnes, Stephen Barnes, John
Beedle, Thomas Beedle, George Brady, Richard Brady, Thomas Elting,
John Fountain, Henry Hopping, Joseph Hopping, Francis Lusk,
Richard Post, Daniel Seaman, Michael Seaman, Edward Tobin, and
John Turner.

Colonel John Holmes’s Fourth Regiment. — Jacob Banker, William
Banker, William Bentley, Thomas Duncan, John Egberts, Peter Gar-
rison, Abraham Garrison, Joseph Merrill, Moses Seaman, and John
Stephens.

Colonel Lewis Dubois’s Fifth Regiment. — Nathaniel Bancker, Chris-
topher Decker, Mathew Decker, Daniel Doty, Francis Drake,
Ephraim Seaman, and John Willis.

Captain Alexander Hamilton’s Provincial Artillery. — Lawrence
Farguson, Isaac Johnson, and John Wood.

Colonel Levi Pawling’s Regiment of Ulster County Militia. — Jacob
Coddington, Jaquin Depew, Jacob Depew, Moses Depew, Josiah
Drake, and William Drake.

Colonel James McGlaghry’s Regiment of Ulster County Militia.
Elijah Barton, Francis Lusk, James Totten, Thomas Totten, and Ben-
jamin Woods.

Colonel Johanness Hardenburgh’s Regiment of Ulster County Mili-
tia. — Charles Cole, Abraham Decker, Abraham Decker,  Ellas
Decker, William Drake, Abraham Johnson, John Lawrence, Daniel
Masters, and Jacobus Miller.

Captain Samuel Clark’s Independent Company of Ulster County
Militia. — Jacob Cropsey, Jacob DeGroot, and John Stillwell.

Colonel Joseph Drake’s Regiment of Westchester Militia. — Nicholas
Bancker. Henry DePew, Samuel Drake, David Martling, Peter
Martling, Hendrick Romer, Hendrick Romer, Jr., James Romer, Hen-
drick Ryerss, John Ryerss, and Tunis Ryerss.

Colonel Thomas Thomas’s Second Regiment of Westchester County
Militia. — Abraham Bancker, William Brown, James Campbell, Jo-
seph Clark, Abraham Egbert, Abijah Fountain, Jonathan Jessup,
Sylvanus Merritt, John Merritt, and Daniel Merritt.

Colonel Samuel Drake’s Regiment of Westchester County Militia.
— Samuel Bedel, William Brown. Jacob Clawson, Stephen Curry, Gar-
ret DeGroot, Abraham DePew, Henry DePew, John DePew, Jeremiah
Drake, John Drake. John Farguson, Elijah Fuller, Daniel Hatfield,
Joshua Hatfield, Obadiah Hunt. George Jones, Nathaniel Lane, James
Morrel, Elijah Mundy, “William Oakley, Ward Smith. John Stephens,
James Townsend, Stephen Travis, and Moses Ward.

Colonel Thaddeus Crane’s Fourth Regiment of Westchester County
Militia. — Ephraim Clark, Gilbert Drake, William Frost, John Holmes, Luke Merritt, Eeuben Smith, Jacob Travis, Abraham Wandel, and
Jonathan Wood.

Captain Jonathan Horton’s Separate Company, Westchester Militia.
— William Dalton and Isaac Oakley.

Staten Islanders who served in the war, but organizations un-
known. — Abraham Ferdon, James Drake, Gerard Decker, Reuben
Jones, William Merrill, John Stillwell, and Ephraim Taylor.

Among the native prisoners known to have been kept on Staten
Island for a time by the British were Abraham Winants, John Stew-
art, Daniel Wandel, and John Noe.

Patriot Voices From the British Invasion of Long Island

MAJOR GENERAL SULLIVAN’S ORDERS
CAMP ON LONG ISLAND
[Colonel Little’s Order Book]


[Long Island,] August 20, 1776.

Field Offr of the Day tomorrow, Col. Phipps, (?) Adjt from Col. Little’s regt.

August 21st, 1776.

Five hundred men to be on fatigue to-morrow to be on the works by 8 o’clock, to leave at 12, & begin at 2 o’clock, & work till half past 6. Nothing can be more disagreeable to the Genl. than to call upon the men to be so constantly on fatigue, but their own salvation, and the safety of the country requires it. He hopes that in 2 or 3 days more the encampment will be so secure that he can release the men from fatigue and give them an opportunity to rest from their labors. Adjt. of the day to attend at the Genls. quarters every morning at 8, and an orderly from each brigade daily. Four men are to be drafted to row the Genls boat and do no other duty. The Brigade majors, upon receiving orders from Head Quarters are to call at Gen. Sullivan’s quarters for his orders, or send adjts to take them off.

Col. Johnson’s and Newcomb’s regts are to consider the woods on the west side of the creek as their alarm post, and repair there in case of an alarm. Gen. Nixon will show the ground this evening at 6 o’clock to the commg officers of the Regts.

Aug. 23, 1776.

The men not to turn out to their alarm posts this afternoon, (but) to get 2 days’ provisions ready, & to be at their alarm posts to-morrow morning by 3 o’clock in order for action.

Cols. Miles & Ransom’s (Remsen’s of L.I.) regts. to take possession of the Bedford road this night—Col. Ransom’s regt. to march at 5 o’clock. Col. Miles’ regt. is on the spot. Cols. Little’s & Hitchcock’s Regts to possess the Flatbush road & Cols. Johnson’s & Martin’s to take possession of the road near the [Pg ii.28] river. All these regts. to be at their posts by 6 o’clock. Upon their arrival the troops now there are to retire to their encampments &  get 2 days provisions dressed, & be ready for action. The Gen. will never make a 3rd. requisition to the majors of brigade, to attend for orders.

Long Island Aug. 24 1776.

A return to be made to the Gen. this afternoon at 5 o’clock of all ye Light Horse & companies of troop within the lines. The adjt. of Col. Little’s regiment is to attend at Genls. quarters at 7 o’clock a.m. to-morrow.

The Genl. returns his thanks to the brave officers & soldiers who with so much spirit & intrepidity repulsed the enemy & defeated their designs of taking possession of the woods near our lines. He is now convinced that the troops he has the honor to command, will not, in point of bravery, yield to any troops in the universe. The cheerfulness with which they do their duty, & the patience with which they undergo fatigue evince exalted sentiments of freedom, & love of country gives him most satisfactory evidence that when called upon they will prove themselves worthy of that freedom for which they are now contending.

Col. Ramsons (Remsen’s) Regt. to mount no guard except quarter guard of 12, but be considered a fatigue party, to which they are to attend from day to day. The Genl. is sorry to find that Regt. flying from their posts, when timid women would have blushed to have betrayed any signs of fear at any thing this regt. discovered at the time of their flight.

Officers are requested to see that their men always keep at least 2 days provisions, ready dressed by them. The Commissary is to deal out one gill of rum per man each day on this Island until further orders. Soldiers are not to be out of their encampment but upon urgent business. Gen. Nixon to take command of the lines next the enemy until further orders, to post his men in the edge of the woods next the enemy. Brigde Majors to attend punctually at the Genl’s. quarters at 10 a.m.

Long Island Aug. 25 1776.

The following arrangement to take place on Long Island until further orders—Viz: Col. Mile’s 2 battalions, Col. Atlee’s, Col. Lutzs, Major Hayes, Col. Lashers and Drake’s to be formed into[Pg ii.29] one brigade under the command of Gen. Ld. Stirling. Col. Hand’s, Prescott’s, (Late) Nixon’s, Varnum’s, Hitchcock’s, Little’s, Smith’s, & Ramson’s to be under Gen. Nixon. Wylly’s, Huntington’s, Taylor’s, (Tyler’s) Silliman’s, Chester’s, & Gay’s under Gen. Parsons; Johnson’s, Courtlandt’s, Martins, Newcombs & Freeman’s (Forman’s), under the command of Brig. Gen Hurd.

The General orders that the Brigrs. attend at Head Quarters at 8 a.m. to-morrow for directions. Brigde Major Box is appointed to act as Adjt. Genl. for this department until further orders.

A Brigr. Genl. of the Day to attend the Grand Parade at Guard mounting at 10 a.m., every day afterwards at 8, whose duty it shall be to see that the guards are regularly made up, & properly posted & duly relieved. No firing at the outposts to be allowed on any pretense, except by permission of the Comg Gen. of the day, & none within the lines except by permission. This order not to extend to sentries on guard.

Brigr. for the day Gen. Ld. Stirling.

The Gen. is surprised to find the soldiers strolling about, notwithstanding repeated orders, miles distant from the lines, at a time when the enemy are hourly expected to make an attack. The officers are enjoined to cause the arrest of any soldier who shall be found strolling without the lines unless they can show a written permit from their Cap. or Comg. officer of the regt. or company. All the officers and soldiers are to keep within their quarters, unless ordered on duty.

All troops in this department are desired to wear a green bough or branch of a tree in their hats, till further orders.

Col. Ward’s Regt. to be added to Gen. Parson’s brigade. All the troops not….  [——The order breaks off at this point in Colonel Little’s book, but it is fortunately preserved entire in an orderly book kept by Captain John Douglass, of Philadelphia. (Hist. Mag., vol. ii., p. 354.) The following order from General Lord Stirling also appears in Captain Douglass’s book:

[Long Island] August 25th 1776.

“The Adjutants of each Corps of this Brigade are to attend Brigade Major Livingston at Gen. Sullivan’s Quarters every morning at 9 o’clock to receive the orders of the day. The Weekly Returns are to be brought in this day. Such regiments as have tents are to encamp within the lines as soon as possible.”]

All other troops not mentioned and those which may be sent here[Pg ii.30] without a General Officer to command them are to be considered as a part of Lord Stirling’s Brigade till further orders.

A return of the several Brigades to be made immediately. Eight hundred (men) properly officered to relieve the troops on Bedford Road to-morrow morning, six field officers to attend with this party. The same number to relieve those on Bush (Flatbush) Road, and an equal number those stationed towards the Narrows. A picket of three hundred men under the command of a Field Officer, six Captains, twelve Subalterns to be posted at the wood on the west side of the Creek every night till further orders.

It is a very scandalous practice unbecoming soldiers whose duty it is to defend the liberty and property of the Inhabitants of the country to make free with and rob them of that property; it is therefore ordered that no person belonging to this army do presume on any pretense whatever to take or make use of any Corn, Poultry or Provision, or anything else without the consent of the owners nor without paying the common price for them; any breach of this order will be severely punished. The Commanding Officer of each Regiment and Company is to see this order communicated to their respective corps and to see it carried into execution….

Brigadier Lord Stirling to command the front of our lines next Hudson’s River and to command the reserve within the lines, and when either of the other Brigade Generals have the command of the Advance Lines Lord Stirling is to have command of his post in his absence. Each Brigadier General to assign the Alarm Posts to the several Regiments under their command.

__________________________________________________________

From: The Campaign of 1776 around New York and Brooklyn by Henry P. Johnston. BROOKLYN, N.Y.: PUBLISHED BY THE LONG ISLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY. 1878.

The Mersereaus (Washington’s notorious Spys) from Staten Island

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.

From October 14, 1777 to April 28, 1779, he was Assistant Commissary of Prisoners under his father, Joshua Mersereau, who was Deputy Commissary of Prisoners, and Gen Mifflin Quartermaster General.
In the winter of 1780, he was guide to Col Heson’s Division, in Lord Stirling’s expedition to Staten Island and was in an engagement at a blockhouse. The following February, he was under Capt James Patton when he captured Col Jones. In the summer of 1780, he was under Capt John Story in an attempt to capture a British Colonel. In the fall of 1780, he was engaged on the lines near Elizabethtown.

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.

Judge Joshua Daniel Mersereau IV. Painting found in the Tioga Co. Historical Society Wellsboro, PA.. Second floor.
 

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.

The below letter was sent to Gen. George Washington from Joshua Mesereau:

To George Washington from Joshua Mersereau, 31 August 1778

From Joshua Mersereau

Boston August 31—1778

Sr

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

Joshua Mersereau

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.).

____________________________________________________________
Information obtained and can be found at: The Roll Family Windmill

Genealogy of the Roll and Allied Families