Richard Mather Bayles.

History of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time online

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ships) his services would not be required.

On the 8th of March. Hendric Garrison, of Richmond county,
forwarded a complaint to the congress, that while he was attend-


ing as a witness before the committee of said county, and while
under examination, the said committee permitted the defend-
ants, Cornelius Martino, Richard Conner and John Burbank, to
insult and abuse him, and he asked the protection of congress,
as he considered his person and property unsafe. Lord Stirling,
as commander of the continental troops in New York, issued a
warrant to apprehend John James Boyd, of Richmond county,
and to have him brought before the congress. Captain John
Warner, to whom the warrant was delivered for execution, laid
it before that body on the 14th of March, when it was consid-
ered and decided that the said Boyd was so unimportant and in-
significant a person as not to deserve the trouble and expense of
apprehending him. Boyd resented this depreciation of his im-
portance, and on the 21st sent a note to the committee of safety
claiming to be "a steady and warm friend to his country," and
pronounced any accusation against him unfounded.

On the 1st of April, 1776, Christian Jacobson, as the chairman
of the county committee, reported the organization of four
companies of militia in the county, the officers of which were
ordered to be duly commissioned. On the 3d of April Mr. Law-
rence, a member from Richmond, reported that the county was
already furnished with fourteen good flats or scows, which were
sufficient for the removal of the stock from the island, and that
the building of two more, as previously ordered, would be a use-
less expense. These scows, or flats, were held in readiness to re-
move the cattle to New Jersey, if the English ships of war on
the coast should attempt to seize them, as they had done in
several other places.

On the 12th of April, Lord Stirling informed the committee
of safety that he had General Putnam's orders to march with a
brigade of troops for Staten Island, and that he would be under
the necessity of quartering the soldiers in the farm-houses for
the present ; he requests the people to be notified of the fact,
so that they might prepare quarters most convenient to them-
selves, and to be assured that he would make the residence of
the troops as little burdensome as possible. The committee of
Richmond were requested to prepare empty farm-houses, barns,
etc., for the reception of the soldiers, and to use their " influence
with the inhabitants to consider the soldiers as their country-
men and fellow citizens employed in the defence of the liberties
of their country in general, and of the inhabitants of Richmond


county in particular, and, endeavour to accommodate them ac-

The question has been raised as to whether or not, General
Washington was ever on Staten Island in person. To this
question Mr. Clute, the historian of Staten Island, has sug-
gested the following considerations :

"The only evidence of the fact which is attainable at this day
is contained in the extract from his carefully kept accounts with
the government of the United States, which we here present.
" 1776.

Ap L 25th, To the Exps of myself and party reccte

the sev 1 landing places on Staten Island 16 10 0."

" It may be said that the reconnoitering, which is almost un-
intelligibly abbreviated in the original account, might have been
done on the water, and quite as efficiently as on the land. The
following objections, however, exist to this view of the subject :

" First. The object of Washington was to erect fortifications
and other defences on the most eligible sites, as the British did
when they took possession on the following July ; and some
parts of the shores perhaps the most important could not be
examined with such an object in view, from any position at-
tainable on the water.

" Second. The Comma,nder-in-Chief expresses himself in the
above extracts, in terms similar to those used in other parts of
his accounts for similar services in places not accessible by
water, and

" Third. There were two or three British vessels of-war lying
near the Island, on one of which Governor Tryon had taken up
his quarters, and from which he kept up an intercourse with
royalists on the Island, and a reconnoitering of the shores by
water would not have been permitted, to say nothing of the
danger of capture."

Whether he came here and travelled over the land himself or
not, certain it was that General Washington had his attention
drawn to this spot, and regarded Staten Island with more than
ordinary concern. There were two points of importance which
called for his attention ; the sentiments of the people, and the
peculiar geographical position of the island. The action of
congress having somewhat modified the former, it was to the
latter that he gave most of his care.

Lying between the ocean and the metropolis, and on the high-


way from the one to the other, Staten Island, early in the war,
was regarded as an important location in a military point of
view. Its importance was enhanced by the fact that it was
situated in a bay more than half surrounded by the main land
of New Jersey, and commanded not only a great part of Long
Island but New York city, and a large extent of country em-
bracing nearly all the northern part of New Jersey; the posses-
sion of it therefore became a matter of importance to both
belligerents. Washington was as prompt to perceive the
natural advantages of Staten Island in a military point of view
as were the British. Within a week after his personal visit to
the city, he established a look-out at the Narrows, which, when
the British made their appearance, sent a message by express
that forty of the enemy's vessels were in sight. This informa-
tion was at once forwarded to the several posts on the Hudson,
with instructions to prepare to give them a warm reception if
they should attempt to ascend the river. But the ships, upon
their arrival, anchored off Staten Island, and landed their
troops, and t.he hillsides were soon covered with their white
tents. Military works were at once erected upon every avail-
able point, thus intimating their intention of taking a perma-
nent possession.

The opinion which Washington had formed of the people of
Staten Island, as well as of their immediate neighbors at Am-
boy, may be learned from the following extract from one of his
letters: "The known disaffection of the people of Amboy, and
the treachery of those of Staten Island, who, after the fairest
professions, have shown themselves our inveterate enemies,
have induced me to give directions that all persons of known
enmity and doubtful character should be removed from these

On the 2d of May, Mr. Garrison (Hendric), chairman of the
county committee, was present at the meeting of the committee
of safety, and inquired whether the people would be paid for
fire-wood furnished to the troops in Richmond county, and for
their labor in preparing the guard house, at the requestof Lord
Stirling, and was referred to Colonel Mifflin. Hence, we infer
that some of Lord Stirling's troops had taken up their quarters
on the island.

On the 6th of May, General Washington wrote to the com-
mittee of safety, informing them that Peter Poillon, of Rich-


mond county, had been arrested for supplying the king's ships
with provisions. On the 8th, Poillon was brought before the
committee and examined. He did not deny the charge, but
pleaded in extenuation that the regulations for preventing in-
tercourse with the king's ships had not been published in Rich-
mond county until the 2d or 3d of that month, and that there-
fore he was ignorant of them; he stated farther, 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 market of the value of about three pounds; that
while passing the ship of war "Asia," at as great a distance as
he safely could, he was tired 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. He was discharged 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.

May 18th 1776, a certificate signed by Christian Jacobson,
chairman of the Richmond county committee, dated April 22d,
1776, was presented to the provincial congress, and attested by
Israel D. Bedell, clerk, and directed to Paul Micheau, Richard
Conner, Aaron Cortelyou and John Journey, was read and filed,
whereby it appeared that these gentlemen had been elected to
represent Richmond county in that body, with power to any
two of them to meet to constitute a quorum, the second
Tuesday of May, 1777.

On the 5th of June, 1776, congress issued an order for the
arrest of a number of persons in several counties who were in-
imical to the cause of America; those from Richmond county
were Isaac Decker, Abm. Harris, Ephm. Taylor and Minne
Burger. They also ordered that several persons who held office
under the king should be summoned to appear before the con-
gress, and among them are found the names of Benjamin Sea-
man and Christopher Billop, of Richmond.

There is nothing in the "Journal of the Congress" to show
that these orders and resolutions were ever carried into effect.

During the early part of the year 1776 the popular feeling in
the colonies had become so much aroused that the officers of the
king were obliged in many cases to use considerable caution in
order to save their own persons from violence. William Tryon,
the last of the royal governors, had indeed retired from the city


of New York, and taken his position on board the ship
" Halifax," during the previous autumn, and there he wrote to
Mayor AVhitehead Hicks, of New York, October 19, as follows:

" SIR,

" Finding your letter of yesterday insufficient for the secur-
ity I requested from the Corporation and Citizens, and objec-
tionable for the mode in which you obtained the sense of the
inhabitants, my duty directed me for the present instant to re-
move on board this ship; where I shall be ready to do such
business of the country, as the situation of the times will per-
mit. The citizens, as well as the inhabitants of the province,
may be assured of my inclination to embrace every means in
my power to restore the peace, good order, and authority of gov-

" I am, Sir,

' ; Your most obedient servant,


In January, 1776, General Clinton having been sent by Howe
on an expedition along the Atlantic coast, while on his way
from Boston to Virginia, came to anchor at Sandy Hook and
had an interview with Tryon and other friends of the king who
had been obliged to take shelter in vessels, after whicli they
went on their way southward. Howe, with his army, about
12,000 strong, evacuated Boston March 17th, and falling back to
Halifax awaited with the fleet the arrival of his brother with
reinforcements from England. Becoming impatient of delay
he made ready and sailed from that place for the expected seat
of war at New York on the 12th of June, and arrived off Sandy
Hook on the 25th. Here he waited for the arrival of the fleet,
which came up on the 29th. Admiral Lord Howe, with part of
the reinforcements from England, arrived at Halifax soon after
his brother's departure, but without dropping anchor he fol-
lowed and joined him here. The British general, on his ap-
proach, found every part of New York island, and the most
exposed parts of Long Island fortified and well defended by ar-
tillery. Finding Staten Island had not been so well fortified for
protection the fleet anchored near here and it was determined
to make use of this spot for a rendezvous while awaiting the
arrival of other forces and the completion of arrangements for
penetrating into the country and maturing any other plane for


On the 3d of July the fleet moved up to the Narrows, and
the grenadiers and light infantry were landed undercover of
the frigates and sloops of war. General Howe declared this was
done " to the great joy of a most loyal people, long suffering
on that account under the oppression of the rebels stationed
among them, who precipitately fled on the approach of the
shipping." The remainder of the army were landed in the
course of the day, and the whole were distributed in canton-
ments, where they found the best refreshments. The headquar-
ters were at Richmond. The landing of the troops was made
in a very orderly manner, under the direction of Captains Ray-
nor, of the ship "Chatham," and Curtis, of the ship "Sene-
gal," and to the entire satisfaction of General Howe. As the
Americans were strongly posted and in great force, both on Long
Island and at New York, having upwards of a hundred cannon
for defending the city, Howe resolved to defer his scheme of
ascending the North river, and to remain in his present position
until he should be joined by Clinton and the expected reinforce-
ments from England. The latter arrived at Staten Island on the
12th of July, and Lord Howe assumed the command of the
fleet on the American station The fleet numbered one hundred
and thirteen sail and they lay in a line extending from the
mouth of the Kill von Kull to Simonson's ferry at the Narrows.
As they were coming in, the "Asia," which brought up the rear
of the fleet, was fired at from a small battery on Long Island
commanding the Narrows. The fire was returned by about forty
24-pounders, one of which lodged in the wall of a private house
there. Another shot struck the house of Mr. Denyse Denyse
afterward of Staten Island, wounding a negro servant in the
foot and narrowly missing the kitchen, where a number of
the family were at work. A second shot struck the barn on the
same place, and a third destroyed much of the garden fence
opposite the front door of the mansion house. This is said to
have been the first blood shed in this quarter in the war.

The following items from the " Pennsylvania Journal'" of
July 10, 1776, are of interest in this connection.

" As soon as the troops landed they paraded the North Shore,
and on Wednesday morning made their appearance near Eliza-
beth-Town Point ; but the country being soon alarmed, they
retreated, took up the floor of the draw-bridge in the salt
meadows, and immediately threw tip some works.


"Their near approach to Elizabeth-Town Point greatly
alarmed the inhabitants of Essex county, and particularly the
people of Elizabeth-Town and Newark, but they are now in a
condition to receive them whenever they may think proper to

"Two young men from Elizabeth -Town crossed the river in a
canoe last Thursday, and tired upon the Regulars ; but a num-
ber of them rushing out of the woods, they were obliged to
retreat and cross the river again.

"A sloop of twelve six pounders, belonging to the fleet from
Halifax, layingin the Kills, near Mr. Decker's ferry, was almost
torn to pieces last Wednesdaj 7 morning, by a party under the
command of General Herd, from the opposite shore, with two
18-pounders. The crew soon abandoned the sloop, and we sup-
pose she is rendered entirely unfit for any further service.

" We hear two men of war now lay near Amboy, in order 'tis
supposed, to stop all navigation that way."

Lord Howe and General Howe, having thus established their
troops and naval forces upon and around Staten Island, issued
a proclamation on the 14th of July, inviting all persons to return
to their allegiance to the king. Their combined forces were
estimated at about 24,000 men, though only a part of them were
encamped on the island. The number of the latter has been
variously estimated at from nine to fifteen thousand men.

Let us now turn aside from the Held of active movements to
notice the deliberations of the parliamentary head of govern-
ment. On the 9th of July the provincial congress convened at
the court house in White Plains, Westchester county ; the
British then having taken possession of Staten Island, there
were no depvities from Richmond county in attendance. At
this meeting the declaration of independence was received and
read; it was also reported that the British had taken posses-
sion of Staten Island without opposition, and detachments had
advanced toward Bergen Point and Elizabethtown. The declar-
ation having been read, it was unanimously adopted, and the
congress passed a resolution to support the same, "at the risk
of our lives and fortunes.'' It was thus ordered to be published.
1 1 was then " Resolved and Ordered, that the style or title of
this house be changed from that of the ' Provincial Congress
of the Colony of New York,' to that of 'The Convention of the
Representatives of the State of New York.' '


The convention recognized the impracticablity of electing
senators and members of assembly in the southern district of
the state, Westchester excepted, and as it was reasonable and
right that the people of that district should be entitled to rep-
resentation in legislation, they proceeded to appoint these of-
ficers ; and for the county of Richmond, Joshua Mersereau and
Abm. Jones were appointed ; the latter was subsequently de-
nied his seat, on account of his sympathy for the enemy.

After this the county does not appear to have been repre-
sented in the legislature of the colony or state for a long time.
There were representatives who were entitled to their seats, but
they were not permitted to leave the island. Communication
with the main land, or with New York, or Long Island, was
prohibited, except by permission, and consequently in th suc-
ceeding sessions of the legislature the name of a representative
from Richmond does not appear.

The first object to engage the attention of General Howe was
the conciliation of the American loyalists, and, to this end, he
had numerous interviews with Governor Tryon and other
prominent individuals in New York and New Jersey, all of
whom led him to believe that large numbers of the people
were anxious to flock to his standard the moment it was un-
furled. Delancey. of New York, and Skinner, of Perth Am-
boy, were made brigadier-generals, and Billop, of Staten
Island, colonel, of the native loyalists or tories. Proclama-
tions were issued promising protection to the people so long
as they remained peaceably at home and manifested no sym-
pathy for the rebels or their cause Misled by the specious
promises which Howe had promulgated, hundreds of the whig
inhabitants of Staten Island remained peaceably at home to
reap the fruits of their credulity in having soldiers quartered
upon them in enduring, submissively, the insults and out-
rages committed upon themselves and families, their houses
and barns openly and defiantly plundered, their cattle driven
away or wantonly killed, their churches burned, and, not in-
frequently, some of their own number barbarously, and with-
out provocation, murdered.

There were some, however, who had no faith in the protesta-
tions of the British commander, and also had too much man-
hood to conceal their sentiments; to these the political atmos-
phere of the island was decidedly unhealthy, and they had to


escape for their lives. Among them was Colonel Jacob Merse-
reau. He was the son of Joshua Mersereau and Maria Corsen.
He was baptized May 24th, 1730, and died in September, 1804,
in the 75th year of his age. He resided in the old stone house
in Northfield, not far from Graniteville, since occupied by his
son, Hon. Peter Mersereau. Soon after the beginning of the
war he became apprehensive for his personal safety and fled to
New Jersey. During his protracted residence there, he made
occasional stealthy visits to his family by night, and on one of
these occasions had a very narrow escape from capture. Hav-
ing crossed the sound, and concealed his boat, he took his
course for home across fields, avoiding the public roads as
much as possible. While crossing a road he was met by a
young man by whom he was recognized at once. There was no
British post just then nearer than Richmond, and thither the
young tory hastened to inform the commanding officer of his
discovery. Preparations were made immediately to effect the
arrest of the colonel, but it was near daylight in the morning
before the party set out. The family had arisen early, but they
did not discover the soldiers until they were within a few rods
of the house. The alarm was immediately given, which, being
perceived by the approaching party, a rush was made, and as
they reached the door the colonel sprang out of the upper
northwest window of the house upon a shed beneath it, and
thence to the ground. He was discovered before he had gone
far, and at once pursued. Crouching on " all-fours " behind a
hedge to keep himself out of sight, he reached a swamp in the
middle of which he found a place of concealment. The swamp
was discovered, and it was at once concluded that he was there
concealed, but as the pursuers were ignorant of its intricacies,
they could proceed no further. Dogs were then put on the
track, which they followed to the edge of the swamp, where
they chanced to scent a rabbit, and away they went in pursuit
of the new game. Here the pursuit terminated, and the colonel,
after remaining concealed the whole day, escaped during the
following night to New Jersey. For a week thereafter a close
watch was kept on the house by day and by night.

When the British took possession of Staten Island, they im-
mediately threw up strong intrenchments. Simcoe says :

"In the distribution of quarters for the remaining winter,
Richmond was allotted to the Queen's Rangers. This post was


in the center of the island, and consisted of three bad redoubts,
so contracted, at various times and in such a manner, as to be
of little mutual assistance ; the spaces between these redoubts
had been occupied by the huts of the troops, wretchedly made
of mud ;" these Lieut. Col. Simcoe had thrown down, and his
purpose was to build ranges of log houses, which might join
the redoubts, and being loop-holed, might become a very de-
fensible curtain. Other fortifications were erected in other parts
of the island one at New Brighton, on the height now known
as Fort Hill, which commanded the entrance to the Kills ;
another was built at the Narrows, near the site of the present
national fortifications, and in several other places. Many rem-
nants of British occupancy have been found in and around
these old fortifications, such as cannon balls, bullets, gun
locks, etc.

Skirmishing between the forces on Staten Island and the
Americans on the Jersey shore was of frequent occurrence. A
considerable cannonading took place between the forces at
Perth Amboy and batteries of the British on the Staten Island
shore on the 25th of July. This was occasioned by the firing
of the former upon four or five shallops as they were coming
down the sound. The account continues :

" Captain Moulder, with his two field pieces, was ordered to
the shore (Perth Amboy), but being encamped at some distrnce,
before he could come up the shallops had all nearly past, how-
ever, he began a well directed fire, and though the y had got to
a considerable distance, hulled one of them.

" When the vessels were past, the firing ceased on both sides.
We had the misfortune of loosing one of the Second battalion,
and having another wounded. * There was a horse

killed which was standing in a waggon near the General's door.
The enemy appear to have some very heavy field pieces. They
sent some 12-pounders among us. It is surprising they did not
do more execution, as there were so many of our people on the
bank opposite to them without the least covering.

" The enemy appear to be very strong, and are constantly re-
inforcing, as our troops come in. They are throwing up breast-
works along the shore to prevent our landing."

Major Turner Statibenzee was commander of the Second bat-
talion of light infantry on the island. He employed a stout
negro, who happened to fall into his hands, to carry a note to


another officer. The negro on his way decided to change his
course and, turning aside, escaped beyond the lines, and fled to

Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 17 of 72)