Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

References to the Battle of Pelham in 18th Century Diary of Ezra Stiles, President of Yale College

Much has been written about the Battle of Pelham on October 18 ,1776.  Indeed, at the end of today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog I have included a bibliography with links to thirty-two articles I have written about various aspects of the Battle.  

Historians long have known that an eighteenth century theologian who maintained an extensive set of diaries during the Revolutionary War made multiple references to the Battle of Pelham.  Ezra Stiles, D.D., LL.D. was an American academic, educator, Congregationalist Minister, theologian, author who also served as President of Yale College from 1778 until 1795.  During the Revolutionary War he kept an extensive set of diaries reporting all that he learned of the progress of the war as well as the details of his life.  His diaries were published in a multi-volume set in 1901.

Ezra Stiles, 1770-1771, from a Painting by Samuel King.
Source:  Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by
Kurpfalzbilder.de using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public 
Domain Via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ezra_Stiles.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Ezra_Stiles.jpg

The published diaries of Ezra Stiles include multiple references to the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 and to events immediately before and after the Battle.  The diaries are particularly fascinating because they collect a number of accounts of the Battle including the well-known letter from the camp at Mile Square and the less well known letter from Northcastle dated October 29, 1776 in which the author provides a brief eyewitness account from the perspective of those who were left behind by Col. Glover as he raced from a hill overlooking the bridge across the Hutchinson River (where today's Colonial Avenue / Sandford Boulevard cross the little creek) to meet the British landing on Pell's Point (today's Rodman's Neck).  Those left behind were ordered to man artillery from the hill to protect any retreat by Col. Glover and his troops (which is exactly what happened at the close of the Battle).

Immediately below are transcriptions of text relating to the Battle of Pelham and surrounding events taken from the published diaries, followed by a citation to their source.

"DIARY OF EZRA STILES . . . OCTOBER 10-18, 1776 . . . 

October . . . 

[Page 62] 

14.  Last Even g  [Evening] acc o [account] came to Fairfield that 6000 Kings Troops had landed at Frogspoint [i.e., Throggs Neck] in W. Chester, friday or sat y last.  There is considerable Motion among the Tories which are said to be a quarter of the pple west of Stratford River.  Appearance of Conspiracy & Preparation for Insurrection; they express great Expectations that the Kings Troops will prevail.  The Patriots & Friends of Liberty dont love to take violent Courses with them, but begin to think they must.

Major Lamb of N. York, is just returned from his Captivity at Quebec where he was taken when General Montgom y was slain.  I saw him at Stratford.  He lay on board ship at N. Y. some Time.  He tells me the Regulars said on board his ship, they had lost four hundred killed on L. Isld besides wounded; which agrees with L d Howes say g [saying] that he had lost Eighteen hundred brave Men there -- for if 400 were killed, 1800 were damaged; He also told me that an officer came on board Ldsdy Evng. (15 Sep) daming the Yankies for runaway Cowards, & storming that there was no Chance to fight & get honor & rise -- he was in the Monday Action also, & came again [Page 62 / Page 63] on board at Evening cursing & damning the War, saying he had found the Americans would fight, & that it would be impossible to conquer them.

16.  At N Haven, Confirm a [Confirmation] of Land g at Frogpoint.  Visiing.  Rode to Mr. Darlings in Amity.  1  [Footnote 1 reads:  '1  Judge Thomas Darling (Yale 1740), Dr. Stile's old College Tutor, lived in Amity Parish, now Woodbridge.']  

17.  At N H.  News of Gen. Arnolds Repulse on Lake Champlain 11th Inst. or friday last.  Gen Gates inclosed to Gov Trumbull, G. Arnolds Letter informing this, & also a List of Forces on that Lake -- which Dr Carrington who read the Letter gave me from Memory as follows:

Oct. 11, 1776 Naval Action, Kings Fleet on Lake Champlain.

1 Ship --          16 Guns
1 Snow            16 G.
1 Schooner      14 G.
2 Do.                12 G. each
2 Sloops          1 Bombketch
1 Large ship not in action

20 to 30 Gundalos with an 18 lb in each.

1000 Men in Batteaux -- large Bodies of Indians on each Side the Lake,

American Fleet there:

1 Sloop -- 12 Guns
1 Schooner -- 12 G.                lost 1 schooner 12 G.
2 Schooners 8 G. each           2 Gondalas
10 Gundalas.  3 Row Gallies  60 killed &c

18.  Gen. Assembly sitting at New Haven, Various Opinions as to the strength of our Armies.  Both our Armies certainly more healthy, the Dysentery much abated.  The most of the Western Militia of Connecticut returned -- tho' great Complaints of Want of Men to gather in the Indian Harvest, which the Women do with great Alacrity.

Secret y Wyllys tells me Gen. Wadsworth carried with him Three Thousd from Connecticutt.  The middle of Sept. he says that G. Wash g had but seventeen Thousd effective Men:  Sickness & Defection prevailed so much.

This day Secr y Wyllys tells me News from G. Wash g to last Tuesday -- his Army in better State than ever.  Commissary Trumbull just from thence says 28 Thousd:  -- Col. --------- says 30,000 be- [Page 63 / Page 64] sides Ten Thousd on Jersey side.  So it should seem we are 40 Thousd strong at N York, & increasing daily.  Col. Wyllys says the Northern Army by late Returns appear to be Eleven Thousd at Ticonderoga, of which G. Gates informs Nine Thousd are effective.  

Gen. Lee arrived at Kingsbridge Oct. 13.  At President Daggets I this day saw the Rev d Mr Gordon of Roxbury return g from visiting the Camps at Ticonderoga & N York.  He fears for the Northern Army; is easy for that at N York -- he thinks G. Howe of the Kings army good for Execution, not skilful at planning, -- and doubts the Generalship of any of their Officers -- at least he thinks them not capital Characters.

When I was at Fairfield I saw Sloss Hobart 1 [Footnote 1 reads:  '1  John Sloss Hobart (Yale 1757), son of the Rev. Noah Hobart, of Fairfield.'] Esq a sensible Gent. & Member of the N. Y. Convention.  He gave me the follow g Draught of the Action of 16 Sept. which began near the 14 M. stone & ended at the 8 M. stone.

We have two General Clintons in our Army.  From one of them who was in the Action Mr Hobart received the account.  Gen. Putnam and Gen. Greene commanded in the Action with about 15 to Eighteen hundred Men. the Enemy having in the action from 30 to 4500.  Gen. Clinton & Gen. Mifflin were present in the action as Spectators.  Gen. Clinton said he was ordered next day to bury the dead left on the field, and buried 78 of the Enemy, the most of which fell in the Buck Wheatfield.  He judged we lost 120 killed & wounded -- the Enemy 400 killed besides wounded:  but perhaps more probably less.  Mr. Hobart saw one who escaped from Harlem, who told him that he counted 190 wounded of the Enemy in one barn, & 110 in another, so 300 wounded, and this not all.  On the whole we fought well in this action.

Extract Letter dated Harlem seven miles from N. York Sept. 16, 1776.

'Yesterday was an unlucky day for us.  The Enemy landed about ten o'Clock at Turtle bay below Hellgate, under cover of many Ships of War.  The Brigade under Gen. Parsons were soon obliged to retire from the Waterside, & give ground for the Enemy to land.  Gen. Mifflin immediately marched from Mount Washington with a thousd men, to the ground near & below this place; where he made a stand, threw up some Works, rallied our retreating Troops, & in an hour after had the principal part of our Army [Page 64 / Page 65] (who were stationed below us) drawn up in good order on the heights.  General Putnam & Scott were in N York, but made their Way thro' the Enemys Line with all their Men & the Guards

Map Appears at this Point, Page 65.


A.  The North side of a Hollow way where the Action began.
B.  Fence, behind which the Enemy rallied the first time.
C.  Fence, from whence our People attacked the Enemy at B, 150 yards apart.
D.  No Field pieces, but Virginia detachment, which enfiladed the Enemy.
E.  Buckwheat field, where the Enemy rallied a second time, & an Action ensued for 1 1/2 hour when the Enemy fled, and attempting to rally in an Orchard at 
F, were so closely pursued, that they stood but a few minutes, when the Rout became general.

[Page 65 / Page 66]

of the City. -- Three days since it was resolved to quit the Town, & we have been removing ever since.  We have taken almost every thing out of the City, but lost some Canon & Stores.  New York never was tenable, & the holding of it obliged us to divide our Army into many weak parts.'

On the night of 20th Sept. the City of New York was in flames about one quarter [sixth] of the City is consumed.  The Regulars ascribe it to the New Engld Captives.  Probably an accident. . . . 

19.  This Morning Mr. Sam l Adams, the eminent Patriot passed thro' New Haven in his Return to Congress.  I visited my aged Mother & Friends at North Haven:  rode to Wallingford & lodged at Dr. Dana's.

20.  Ldsdy.  I preached for Brother Hubbard at Meriden. . . . This Morning Express for New Haven, advises that Gen. Arnolds Fleet is intirely routed on the Lake.

22.  One left Ft Constitution last friday (18) says the Kings Troops are casting up Lines at the Stone Chh in New Rochelle & within about seven miles of Kingsbridge -- that an Action has happened, Col. Shepard in it.  Yesterday it was said at New Haven there were five ships off Fairfield.  I set out with my Daughter Kezia on return for Dighton, & rode to Middletown.  This day I have been ordained 21 years.

*          *          *

NOVEMBER 29, 1776 . . . 

[Page 85]

29.  Lett. from Mt Independence Nov. 17.  (Ticonderoga.)  'We are all upon the Move to Albany as fast as we can get over the Lake.  The En y have moved into Winter Qu rs in Canada, consid. Snow hav g fallen there.  This acc o was bro't this Morn g by o r Flag from St Johns with an Officer belong. to the En y.  The Reasons of the intended Remove of our Troops is a suspected Movement of the Enemy in that Quarter, & also the necessity of going that Way to settle the Affairs of the Army with a Committee of Congress that is there.'

Journal of G. Wash. Army the last fourt'night of October 1776.  A critical period.  Extr. of a letter dated Camp near the Mills about three Miles N o of White plains Nov. 1.

'About the 15th of Oct r the great Movements of the Enemy up the Sound, their Land g in large bodies at Frogs Pt, & the Intelligence which the Generals obtained that the Enemy with their whole force were off against E. Chester & N. Rochel, & that both L d [Lord] & Gen. Howe were there in person, gave the Generals full satisfaction, that Gen. Hows plan was to make a bold stroke & hem in & cut off our Army at once.  Gen. Lee I have understood tho't that the Situation of the army of the States of America was much too confined & crampt, & that it could not be good Policy to lie still in such a Situation, or to hazard the great Cause in which we were embarked in one General Action, in which if we should not succede, the Army might be lost, as a Retreat would be extremely difficult if not impossible.  It was determined by the Generals therefore to counteract the Enemy by a general Movement.  Gen. McDougals Brigade from the Lines at Harlem, several Reg ts of Militia at Ft Wash., & 5 or six Reg ts from the Jersey side were ordered over Kingsbridge & marched on towards the Enemy to counteract them in their Operations.  Generals Heath, Parsons &c with more than half the [Page 85 / Page 86] army were there before.  Gen. Lee also now took his Post on that side not far from the Enemy.

On the 16th the Generals were all in Council & determined to leave Harlem, Ft Wash., & Kingsbridge only with a Garison & march into the Country.  

In the meantime the Stores Baggage &c were moved to places of safety with the greatest Expedition.  G. Lincoln had orders to post himself at Volentine [i.e., Valentine] hill near Mile Square & to cast up some Works for defence & Redoubts were cast up on the Hills & on all difficult Passes on the road from Kingsbridge to Mile Square to secure our March.

On the 17th G. Spencer's whole Division had orders to march to Mile Sqr, which we reached next day.  Two Brigades of yt Div. encamped at Mile Sqr on the left of G. Lincoln, & L d [Lord] Stirl g marched on further and formed still on the left of them towards the White plains making a front twds the Enemy from E. Chester almost to the White plains on the E. side of the highway, so as to secure the March of the Troops behind us on our Right, and to defend the Teams & Waggons yt brought on our sick, Canon,, Stores &c.  In this manner one Division of the Army passed another till we extended from the Sound up to White plains & over to Kings street, not far from Connect. Line where Gen. Parsons took his post, and till the last Division on the right Wing, which was Gen Lee's, reached the Plains, and marched out Westward between the main body of the Army & the River.  This was on the 25th & 26th of Oct.  This left all the Rode from E. Chester to Kingsbridge open to the Enemy, except g a few Guards & a Reg t at or near Ft Independence.  This I have understood was Col. Wyllys's & that his Orders were, if the Enemy came on too powerfully to retreat to Ft Washington.  Gen. Green I have understood (Quaere) is at Ft Wash. with abo't 1600 or 2000 Men, & that the Garison is well supplied with Provis. & warlike stores so as to stand a long siege.  They have a Communic a with the forts on the high Rocks on the opposite shore.  All the Barracks & Prepar a for Winter, we have been obliged to leave for the present.  Our stores of every kind, as far as I can learn, have been bro't off & sent to places of safety; our field Art y with 2 double fortified 12 pounders & one brass 24 D o we have bro't off with us.

While we were mak g this grand Movem t into the Country, the Enemy were not idle; hav g collected their Troops from all qu rs at [Page 86 / Page 87] Frogs Pt & on board their ships, whichg were ranged along shore off against the Point, & opposite to E. Chester.  On the 18th they began a Canonade from their Ship g early in the day, & landed some Men on a pt or neck of Land near E. Chester Meetinghouse, & their main Body advanced from Pells neck out towards the g t Post Road from Connect. to N York.  Gen Lee, who had been watching their motions, had posted a Reg t or 2 of men with one of the Rifle Batalions, in a very advantageous Manner to annoy them, & bring them into an Ambush, which partly succeeded.  A large advanced Guard came forward, with 2 parties on the right & left of them to flank & get round our pple. wherever small parties sh d appear to oppose them.  A small party of our Troops were sent forward to fire on the large advanced Body of the Enemy & to divert & lead them on to a Wall, behind which the Reg ts mentioned were principally secreted.  The Enemy came very near the Wall, & rec d a general fire from our Troops, which broke their advanced Party intirely, so that they ran back to the main Body, formed & came on again in larger numbers, keep g up a heavy Fire with Field pieces on the Walls & Men.  They advanced now very near & rec d a second Fire which intirely routed them again, and they retreated in a narrow Lane by a Wall, in a confused huddled manner, near which were posted a large Body of Riflemen, & som Comp a of musquet men, who at this favorite Moment poured in upon them a most heavy Fire once or twice, before they could get our of the Way; & they were seen to fall in great Numbers.  The whole Body of the Enemy then advanced in solid Columns, & large flank g parties advanced diff. Ways to surround our Men.  They however kept the Wall, till the Enemy advanced a third time, and after giv g them several Fires they retreated by order from their Officers.  Gen. Lee greatly commended the Conduct of the Men.  

The Enemy were tho't at the lowest Computation to have lost 500 Men, some think not less than a thousd.  We had but very few killed, & as far as I can learn not more than 50 or 60 Wounded.  The En y adv a on to a high pt or neck of Land, not far from E. Chester Meetinghouse, from which they were able to command the Rode with their field pieces, but they kept very much in a body, so that our pple on Sat y & Sunday Nights, the 19th & 20th of Oct., bro't off more than 100 Bbs of Pork, that had been left in the store at E. Chester without any Molestation.  About the same time the Enemy sent some light parties along on the shore as far [Page 87 / Page 88] as N Rochel & Maroneck, but their main body did not move but very little.  

On the Even g of the 22 d Thirty six of the Enemy were taken & next Morn g brot to headquarters.  They were Tory Rangers who had listed under the infamous Major Rogers.  One of them had been an Officer in the N York Service, & deserted from us not long since.  Two or 3 of them I have been told were from Newtown in Connecticut.  The 23d there was much Canonad g & a smart Engag t between a party of our Men & the Enemy.  The Enemy were beaten, left thirteen Hessians dead on the field &c &c.  In this Action we had not one man killed, & but 6 or 8 wounded; but one it was that mortally. . . . 

[Page 90]

Lett. 'Camp at Millsquare E. Chester 23 Oct.' 

' . . . .  Friday Morn g last (18) we were alarmed &c, -- and the Enemy landed at Rodman's Pt (a place about four miles from our Encampment) with their whole Force.  The Brigade under the command of Col. Glover, consisting of about Seven hundred Men, one Reg t being absent for Guard. -- We marched down towds the place where the Enemy were advancing with a body of Sixteen Thousd with a very large Artillery.  The first attack was made by a small party on their advanced Guard, which were effectually routed & forced to retreat to the main body; who when they came up were fired upon by two Reg ts advantageously posted by Col. Glover & Major Lee (who behaved gallantly) which bro't [Page 90 / Page 91] many of them to the Ground.  Thus we continued fighting them & retreating the whole Afternoon until they came to a Stand, where they now remain except stretching along down towards Connecticut, I suppose for Forage.  Our Men behaved like Soldires, conformed to the Orders of their Officers & retreated in grand Order. -- Our loss is about Nine or 10 killed & abot 30 wounded.  The Enemy, a Deserter says, lost Two hundred killed on the spot & great number wounded.  People may think what they please of the regular & spirited Behav. of the British Troops, but I that day was an Eye Witness to the contrary, I saw as great Irregularity almost as in a Militia.  They would come out from the Body & fire single Guns.  As to their Courage, the whole Body of 16 Thousd were forced to retreat by the fire of a single Regiment, & many of them old Troops.  The fourth Reg t was one that run.  And had we been reinforced with half their Number might have totally defeated them.  -- The next day G. Lee (under whose commd we are) came & publicly returned his Thanks to Col. Glover & the Officers and Sold rs under his Commd for their noble, spirited, & soldierlike conduct during the Battle. -- G. Wash has since &c.  -- The En y have so far quitted N York that our pple have been down as far as a placed called Bower Lane, which is but one Mile from the Extent of the City.'  

Another Acc o -- Lett. Northcastle Oct. 29.  -- 'We have secured & encamped in every hill & dale between this & N. York.  Last Friday week (18) our whole Brigade that then lay at East Chester under Command of Col. Glover, was ordered to oppose the progress of a large body of the Enemy then landing at Rodmans Point.  Three Reg ts were ordered to pass a Causey (the only passage) & march to oppose them; & our Regt with 3 pieces of Art y was posted on an Eminence overlooking the Causeway, to secure a Retreat for the others & prevent the Enemy's Advancing.  Col. Glover so posted the three other Reg ts in the Wood, that they annoyed the Enemy greatly.  But discovering that they had determined to flank them he ordered a Retreat.  We had 6 or 7 killed & about 18 wounded; the Enemys Loss about 140 or 150. -- '  N B. Seven Regts in the Brigades & yet by a former Letter only 700 men.  How small the Number of the effective Men of a Reg t?

'After this skirmish we retreated to Mile Square where we lay encamped till friday (25 Oct) when we with the Remainder of Gen Lees Div. joyned the main Body of the Army at White plains, one [Page 91 / Page 92]  mile & an half from our present Situation.'  So No Castle 1 1/2 M. from White plains."

Source:  Dexter, Franklin Bowditch, ed., The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, D.D., LL.D. President of Yale College Volume II March 14, 1776 -- December 31, 1781, pp. 63-66, 85-88 & 90-92 (NY, NY:  Charles Scribner's Sons, 1901). 

*          *          *          *          *

I have written extensively about the Battle of Pelham fought on October 18, 1776.  See, for example, the following 32 articles:  

Bell, Blake A., The Battle of Pelham:  October 18, 1776, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 41, Oct. 15, 2004, p. 10, col. 1.  

Bell, Blake, History of the Village of Pelham:  Revolutionary War, HistoricPelham.com Archive (visited May 9, 2014).  

Mon., Feb. 28, 2005:  Glover's Rock on Orchard Beach Road Does Not Mark the Site of the Battle of Pelham.  

Mon., Apr. 18, 2005:  Restored Battle of Pelham Memorial Plaque Is Unveiled at Glover Field.  

Fri., May 27, 2005:  1776, A New Book By Pulitzer Prize Winner David McCullough, Touches on the Battle of Pelham.  

Thu., Jul. 14, 2005:  Pelham's 1926 Pageant Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Pelham.  

Wed., Oct. 26, 2005:  Remnants of the Battlefield on Which the Battle of Pelham Was Fought on October 18, 1776.  
Fri., May 19, 2006:  Possible Remains of a Soldier Killed in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 Found in 1921.  

Fri., Aug. 11, 2006:  Article by William Abbatt on the Battle of Pelham Published in 1910.  

Thu., Sep. 21, 2006:  A Paper Addressing the Battle of Pelham, Among Other Things, Presented in 1903.  

Mon., Oct. 30, 2006:  Brief Biographical Data About Sir Thomas Musgrave, British Lieutenant Colonel Wounded at the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

Wed., Nov. 1, 2006:  Two British Military Unit Histories that Note Participation in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

Tue., Jan. 16, 2007:  Brief Biography of British Officer Who Served During the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

Fri., Feb. 09, 2007:  Extract of October 23, 1776 Letter Describing British Troops in Eastchester After the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.  

Mon., Feb. 12, 2007:  Saint Paul's Church National Historic Site Opens New Exhibition:  "Overlooked Hero:  John Glover and the American Revolution."  

Thu., Jan. 18, 2007:  Three More British Military Unit Histories that Note Participation in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

Mon., Jul. 16, 2007:  Mention of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 in Revolutionary War Diary of David How.  

Tue., Jul. 17, 2007:  Mention of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 in Writings of Francis Rawdon-Hastings, Aide-de-Camp to British General Clinton.  

Wed., Jul. 18, 2007:  Another British Military Unit History that Notes Participation in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.  

Tue., Aug. 7, 2007:  An Account of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 Contained in the McDonald Papers Published in 1926.  

Wed., Aug. 8, 2007:  A Description of an Eyewitness Account of the Interior of St. Paul's Church in Eastchester During the Revolutionary War.  

Thu., Sep. 6, 2007:  Information About St. Paul's Church, the Battle of Pelham and Other Revolutionary War Events Near Pelham Contained in an Account Published in 1940.  

Mon., Oct. 8, 2007:  American Troops Who Guarded Pelham's Shores in October 1776.  

Fri., Oct. 12, 2007:  Images of The Lord Howe Chestnut that Once Stood in the Manor of Pelham.  

Fri., Oct. 27, 2006:  Orders Issued by British Major General The Honourable William Howe While Encamped in Pelham After the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.  

Thu., Jan. 22, 2009:  Another Brief Biography of Sir Thomas Musgrave, a British Officer Wounded at the Battle of Pelham on October 18 1776.  

Wed., Feb. 17, 2010:  British Report on Killed, Wounded and Missing Soldiers During the Period the Battle of Pelham Was Fought on October 18, 1776.  

Fri., Apr. 23, 2010:  Charles Blaskowitz, Surveyor Who Created Important Map Reflecting the Battle of Pelham.  

Thu., Feb. 06, 2014:  A Description of the Revolutionary War Battle of Pelham Published in 1926 for the Sesquicentennial Celebration.

Mon., May 19, 2014:  Biography of British Officer Who Fought in the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

Wed., Jun. 04, 2014:  An Account of the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776 Presented and Published in 1894.  

Fri., Jun. 27, 2014:  Newly-Published Account Concludes Colonel William Shepard Was Wounded During the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home