Skip to main content

Full text of "The bombardment of New York : and the fight for independence on the waters of New York City against the sea power of Great Britain in the year 1776"

See other formats



r i r 




Date Due 

rLB 2 Z \i 


1 M*-Mft£E^ 






Cornell University Library 
E232 .B69 

The bombardment of New York 

3 1924 032 750 402 



PuUiiked by tbc Author 



The original of tliis book is in 
tine Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 








Member oj the Nets York Hisiorieal Society 


CoPYKiGHT, 1915, By R. p. Bolton. 


,, r'^-'*t 

-er ',.i 





I /^ 

y •»* '^i'^ 




1 ' ' .,? 

1 ^ 




" .;ffc 











' -.J 









im-i... s- 


ap--". .... % 






■*■.■?■?*»-- . 







THE fight for Independence in the year 1776, which cen- 
tered upon the possession of the City of New York, 
exhibited in several directions, features similar to the 
struggle now proceeding in Europe, to break or main- 
tain the maritime ascendency of Britain. It was this ma- 
rine superiority only, which in the War of Independence 
enabled the British authorities to maintain their hold upon 
the coast at certain points, and to support their troops in 
their various undertakings. 

It was only the fact that the country was so extensive, 
and that its habitable parts extended so far away from the 
ocean, and had so great a capacity in natural materials 
and production, that offset the destruction of its trade 
and Supplies by the British navy. 

The provincials had from the first no means whatever, 
of opposing the enormous marine available to throw land 
forces at any point on the extensive coast and to penetrate 
the broad rivers of the Atlantic seaboard. Their early 
efforts to meet this desperate situation brought forth the 
native ingenuity and exhibited to a marvelous degree the 
determination and self-sacrifice of the independent states. 

The efforts that were made, and the methods employed, 
were the basis of all the future developments adopted by 
other nationalities in resisting the aggressive maritime 
force of Britain. The earth-work, the torpedo, the fire 
boat and the submarine were all weapons of defence de- 


vised by Americans for this purpose, and in highly de- 
veloped forms they constitute the main defence of every 
nation against any other possessing superior marine power 
today, which is the situation of every nation in the world 
in regard to Great Britain. The methods in actual use 
today in the great struggle now proceeding, are almost 
parallel to the circumstances of the fight in 1776. The 
immensity of modern operations are however, of no greater 
relative proportions than those of the year of Independence, 
when the slowly gathered and irresistible sea power of 
England was concentrated upon the capital city of the 
colonies, and was opposed by a conglomeration of mer- 
chant marines, deep sea and off shore fishermen and coast- 
wise sailors, without a single warship, and destitute of 
guns and ammunition. 

"The principal objects of the war," says an English con- 
temporary author, "were the relief of Quebec, the recovery 
of Canada, an attack upon the Southern colonies, and the 
reduction of New York. Great hopes were founded upon 
this last part of the scheme. Its islands," he continued, 
being long and narrow were exposed on all sides to the 
hostilities of our fieets, and to the descent of our troops, 
with every advantage in their favour. When reduced the 
protection of the ships of war would be as effectual in 
their preservation, as their hostility had been in their re- 

The story of the enormous marine preparations in the 
year of Independence, which were made by the govern- 


ment of Great Britain in the effort to subdue the City of 
New York, and of the efforts made with the slenderest 
means by the American forces to defeat this object, is par- 
ticularly instructive as a lesson in the purpose and possibili- 
ties for oppression of sea power. 

It has been largely overshadowed by the exciting mili- 
tary and political occurrences of that fateful year. 

The important bearing which the marine actions had 
upon the operation of the armies on land, is forcibly illus- 
trated by these events in New York waters. And the 
recital of the bold actions of his Majesty's ships, and the 
fearless opposition of the provincial forces against such 
overwhelming odds, forms a story of part of the struggle 
for the principles of liberty, and Independence, of deep 
interest to students of history, and of information to ob- 
servers of the resistance of lesser nations to the dominance 
of Great Britain. 

The first step towards the support of the political au- 
thority of Great Britain was then as it is now, the appear- 
ance of a warship upon the scene. At Boston, Gharlestown, 
and in New York, the growing insubordination was met 
by the stationing of a vessel at the disposal of the govern- 
ing body, in which, after its appearance had been found 
to be ineffective, the respective authorities took refuge, and 
maintained for a while a show of continuance of their 

Such was the case in New York, when the fast waning 
authority of Governor Tryon was re-inforced by the ap- 


pearance in 1775, of the formidable warship "Asia", a 
sixty-four gun ship of the line of the latest and most 
powerful class, under the command of Captain George 
Vandeput. This imposing demonstration of British readi- 
ness did not however, retard greatly the progress of public 
agitation, and in December, 1775, she was re-inforced by 
the arrival of the "Phoenix", one of the most recent type 
of frigate, of forty-four guns, the commander of which 
was Hyde Parker, the son of an Admiral of the same name, 
who later also attained the same rank in the British service. 

The position of these two vessels, and of their supply 
ship, the Dutchess of Gordon, was not very comfortable, 
for the ice in the Hudson River made their anchorage in- 
secure, and they were compelled to take up quarters so 
close to the town wharf in the East River, that their crews 
were in danger from any reckless "sniper" in the city 

But in this position she was forced to lay, when the 
Governor, finding his personal safety threatened, decided 
to remove the headquarters of authority to the "Asia." As 
she moved out on the 17th of February, the "Asia" struck 
ground at the foot of Whitehall Street, and for a while the 
fine vessel occupied by the Governor, lay exposed to the 
small guns in the old Battery, and the few muskets pos- 
sessed by citizens, had they chosen to try their effects upon 
her. Such efforts would have been only of limited value, 
for even assuming that the guns of the "Asia" could not 
have been brought to bear on the city, the "Phoenix" lay 

outside and could have battered the little town to pieces in 
a few hours. At high water, doubtless greatly to Tryon's 
relief, the "Asia" floated off the ground, which was prob- 
ably the same as that on which the "Massachusetts" 
grounded a hundred and fifty years later, and came to 
anchor "in the Bay below the Islands." 

The "Phoenix" moved out to Gravesend Bay, and estab- 
lished herself as a sort of watch-dog upon the gateway of 
the Port. In this position Captain Hyde Parker doubtless 
felt secure, knowing that the largest number of sympathi- 
zers with the British cause were in Long Island, from which 
he could, therefore, secure necessary supplies, with little risk 
of attack from the shore. 

As soon as it became evident that the British authority 
was being defied, and the ships were without sufficient back- 
ing to attack the city, the method of starvation, which is in 
evidence again today, became the policy of the marine com- 
manders, and Parker proceeded to prohibit the passage of 
any supplies to New York. This action was probably de- 
cided upon in advance of the arrival of General Clinton on 
the warship "Mercury," on February 4th, with two trans- 
ports filled with troops, on his way to attempt to overawe 
and subdue rebellious Charleston. It was the day before 
that the first peaceful merchant vessel was seized by the 
warships; the ship "Sally," belonging to Samuel Franklin, 
bound in with a very necessary cargo of salt. 

Other captures soon followed, as many craft, unsuspect- 
ing any hostile action, were plying in and out of the Port, 

whose winds and tides not infrequently placed them at the 
mercy of the well equipped enemy. 

The "Sally" was packed off as a prize to Boston, but on 
her way was wrecked at Montauk and her prize crew and 
some passengers were taken prisoners by some local rebel 

Snugly anchored just below the present Fort Hamilton, 
the "Phoenix" became a source of great annoyance and dire 
loss to the patriotic cause, as aided by sympathizing tories 
on Long Island, and still kept supplied by direction of the 
Congress, she worked havoc with small trading craft that 
ran the gauntlet of the Narrows. She fired on and detained 
the passage-boat "York," the passenger boat from Amboy 
to the city, laden with unfortunate travelers, and her com- 
mander excused the act on the ground that she had been 
used by rebels in a hostile expedition some weeks before. 
What she could not utilize as a prize, the "Phoenix" scuttled. 
She sank the sloops "Ranger" and "Betsy," to the bottom 
of the Bay, sent the ship "Lady Gage" and the brigs 
"Diligence" and "Amazon" to Halifax, and cut out and sank 
the ship "Wanton," from Cranberry Inlet, besides disposing 
in ways unrecorded, of half a dozen smaller sloops. 

These accomplishments were greatly aided by treachery 
on land and water. Colonel Lord Stirling wrote: "It is 
" absolutely necessary to prevent the communication between 
"the ship 'Phoenix,' which lies off the west end of Long 
" Island below the Narrows, and the people of that part of 
" Long Island, but moi-e especially to take or destroy a cer- 


" tain Frank James, a pilot, who now assists Captain Parker, 
" who commands the 'Phoenix,' in decoying and taking ves- 
" sels of great importance to the cause we are now en- 
" gaged in." 

But on the other hand, the active supporters of the 
national cause were on the alert for any chance, however 
small, of harassing the war vessels, or depriving them of 
their supplies and supports, and one of their first ventures, 
organized by Colonel Stirling, was so exceptionally fortunate 
as to inflict a severe loss on the British army. 

Learning through a pilot, of the advent of one of the 
British transports, without her convoying guard, and that 
the vessel was beating about in heavy weather, trying to 
make the entrance to the Bay, an expedition was organized 
in the "York," with some smaller craft, which surrounded 
the "Blue Mountain Valley," boarded her and worked her 
through the Bay to Amboy. There her complement of two 
companies of Highland soldiers was removed to captivity, 
amid much local rejoicing. 

The British land forces were thus found to be arriving, 
and in order to make their way as difficult as possible, it 
was decided to dismantle the Light House at Sandy Hook, 
which was accomplished early in March, by a party of hardy 
seamen volunteers, led by Major William Malcolm. 

The hostilities had now become so marked that parties 
of American volunteers were kept on the watch to fire on 
the boats of the war vessels as they went for water to the 
wells of Brooklyn and Staten Island. The British armed 


sloop, "Savage," was stationed near the watering place at 
Staten Island to protect their landing, but in one such en- 
counter the watering party was driven off with a loss of 
three men and all the water casks. On a later occasion four 
British seamen were killed, nine wounded, and twelve were 
taken prisoners. 

Another spring which served the "Asia" was on Nutten 
or Governor's Island. A bold party under General Israel 
Putnam, landed at night on the little island, and by dawn 
had constructed "a good Breast Work there raised which 
" will cover them from the fire of the ships and it is directly 
"in the way of the ship coming to the town." 

This last action decided the commander of the "Asia" 
to move further down the Bay, and the "Phoenix" shifted to 
Sandy Hook with the armed sloops "Nautilus" and "Savage," 
being the only place where water could be obtained without 
a fight. But while the watering sloop of the "Asia" was at 
Sandy Hook, an attack was made on her by an American 
force of seamen in several whaleboats. They were driven 
off by the fire of the guns of the "Phoenix" and the despatch 
of her armed boats to the assistance of the sloop. 

These occurrences helped to demonstrate to Washington 
and his aides, who by this time were in New York, busily 
engaged upon the problem of its defences, the helplessness 
of the Colonial forces against the floating power of Great 
Britain. The disparity of force has perhaps never been 
greater, the deficiency in any effective means of resistance 
never more apparent. 


But the men of that day were by no means willing to 
acquiesce helplessly in even so adverse a state of affairs. 
The situation roused the determination to attempt the im- 
possible. It was determined to organize a marine force of 
any kind of vessel, to be manned with volunteers from the 
semi-marine battalions of the east coast sea folk, and Ward's 
amphibious Massachusetts Regiment. So the first Ameri- 
can "Fleet" came into being in New York waters, a hetero- 
geneous collection of schooners, sloops, gallies and whale- 
boats, of which Lieutenant Benjamin Tupper took command, 
hoisting his flag on the schooner "Lady Washington." 

They soon distinguished themselves ,in operations upon 
the supply ships arriving from Europe, among which was 
a most valuable prize containing much needed gun-powder 
and weapons. One of the privateer vessels operating out- 
side Long Island, captured a Glasgow transport, with a bat- 
talion of four hundred and fifty men of the Royal Highland 
Regiment, the afterwards famous Black Watch, together 
with the Lieutenant Colonel and fifteen other officers. 
After removing the prisoners, the ship was despatched as 
a prize to Rhode Island. On the way she fell into the 
clutches of the British man-of-war, "Cerberus," who took her 
captive, and started her back to New York under convoy 
of an armed sloop. But near that port, both fell into the 
maw of the American armed schooner, "Schuyler," which 
closed the ship's chapter of vicissitudes in favor of the 

The Sandy Hook light house had been restored to service, 


and was now guarded by a guard of the British Forty- 
fourth Foot Regiment. Its destruction was a desirable 
means of depriving the now numerous vessels of the enemy 
of guidance, so on June 1st an expedition sallied down the 
Bay to attack it. They eluded the war ships and boldly 
bombarded the stone guard house for nearly two hours, 
with little field guns mounted on their gallies. The "Phoe- 
nix" joined in with her heavy guns, and after damaging the 
light house, they retired with the loss of several men. 

All these efforts, however could have but little effect in 
checking the growth of the marine forces now arriving 
from England, which day by day increased as fresh war- 
ships and troop-transports arrived. The arrival of the great 
fleet of war vessels and transports was preceded by the 
"Greyhound," on board of which was the commander-in- 
chief of the land expeditionary forces, Sir William Howe. 
This vessel, which was one of the new "crack" class of 
thirty-gun frigates, the model of which is still to be seen at 
the Whitehall Museum, in London, was commanded by Cap- 
tain Archibald Dickson, and on her run had taken no less 
than four American craft which were, however, re-captured 
by the "Schuyler," a smart retrieval of loss. The "Grey- 
hound" was soon followed by the main body ; for three days 
later the anxious watchers on the Jersey Highlands counted 
no less than forty-flve sail off the Hook, and soon, "more 
"than a hundred square rig vessels had arrived and an- 
" chored in the Hook." 

The military force was conveyed in about two hundred 


transports, and was accompanied by a powerful squadron 
of war vessels led by the "Cerberus" and "Centurian," 

Lieutenant John Shreve, accompanying Ephraim Ander- 
son to Philadelphia, caught a view of their masts in the 
Lower Bay, which he said, "appeared like a forest of dead 
" trees." But even this great gathering of vessels was only 
a part of the immense effort being made by Britain to force 
the colonists to recognize the futility of opposition, a policy 
frequently followed in later times. 

A new fleet had been formed, and placed under the com- 
mand of General Howe's brother, Viscount Howe, Vice 
Admiral, whose flag-ship the "Eagle," arrived early in July. 
He, with his brother, had been authorized to offer terms 
of forgiveness to the rebellious provincials, prior to com- 
mencing active hostilities, and doubtless it was due to this 
fact that the war-vessels were held at anchor in the lower 
bay, and the unfortunate troops confined in their miserable 
quarters on the transports during the hot days and nights 
of the early summer of 1776. What their discomforts may 
have been is indicated by the circumstances of the Cold- 
stream Guards, whose complement of 959 rank and file, 
with 86 women and 17 children, 39 commissioned and 103 
non-commissioned officers, or 1204 persons in all, were 
crowded into nine little merchant vessels. 

Pending the arrival of additional troops from Halifax, 
and the much discussed and hated Hessians, there gathered 
in the Bay upwards of fifty war-ships of all classes, to the 
sixty-four-gun class, the whole mounting about 1200 guns 


in broadside. Even this cdlossal force was but a part of 
the entire force which was later on assembled. 

Meantime, the nominal and expropriated Governor had 
been leading an uncomfortable official existence on board 
the "Dutchess of Gordon," upon which a show of the main- 
tenance of British authority continued. Notwithstanding 
the increasingly hostile course of events, an appearance of 
civility was maintained between the Committee of Safety, 
which was guiding the civil and military affairs of New 
York, and the rather forlorn Governor, who was supplied 
from time to time with necessaries for the crews of his ves- 
sels and with some delicacies for his own table. As late 
as April 4th, the Committee allowed to be supplied six 
barrels of beer and two quarters of beef to the "Dutchess 
of Gordon," and to her tender, two barrels of beer, 12 
dishes, 24 plates, 12 spoons, 2 mugs and two quarters of 
beef, while fresh meat and vegetables were permitted to be 
sent to the "Asia" and to the "Phoenix." 

Inasmuch as at this time these vessels were pursuing the 
policy of capturing merchant vessels with supplies for the 
city, this policy must be regarded as very conciliatory. 

General Washington arrived in New York on April ] 4th, 
and promptly put an end to these amenities, appealing for- 
mally to the Committee of Safety to put a stop to "a con- 
" tinuance of the intercourse which has hitherto subsisted 
" between the inhabitants of this colony and the enemy on 
" board their ships of war," as being injurious to the com- 
mon cause. This method and the rapid construction of 


land defences on the salient points and headlands of the 
shore line, brought the situation to a clear issue between the 
strength of the floating force and the efforts of the 

The ingenuity of Americans was taxed to find some 
means of opposition, and Congress received and considered 
various suggestions from inventors, such as Captain 
Ephraim Anderson, who had, on May 3d, organized an at- 
tack by fire floats upon the British shipping at Quebec, in 
which he had taken a part, and upon his craft prematurely 
exploding, he had been "considerably burned." Undaunted 
by his experience, he made his way to Philadelphia, and 
" proposed a scheme to destroy the fleet" by a system of fire- 
ships, which he was authorized to attempt, though Wash- 
ington was dubious "that it will be better in theory than 
" practice." 

But a still more important device came into being at this 
time, the production of the ingenuity of David Bushnel, a 
student of Yale, and a native of Maine, who propounded the 
idea of a submarine vessel, armed with a detachable tor- 
pedo operated by clock-work. 

" This machine," says General Heath, " was worked 
" under water. It conveyed a magazine of powder, which 
" was to be fixed under the keel of a ship, then freed from 
" the machine, and left with clock-work going, which was to 
" produce fire when the machine had got out of the way." 

The device was put to a trial, a volunteer. Sergeant Lee, 
making hi^ way with it unseen to the British flag-ship 


" Eagle," then laying at anchor in the Inner Bay. He suc- 
ceeded in his trip, only to fail in the attachment of the 
torpedo, for the vessel was copper-bottomed and the auger 
provided for the purpose would not pierce the metal. So 
the attempt failed, which, had it succeeded, would have prob- 
able affected the whole course of marine development by 
rendering the under-water type of vessel a formidable 
equivalent to the floating armament of the most powerful 
warship. In its later development by Robert Fulton, the 
menace of the system to the predominance of their sea 
power was recognized by the British, who discouraged the 
inventor so that he abandoned the line of invention, and 
it was left for Simon Lake to resuscitate the idea and bring 
about the radical disturbance of sea power which the sub- 
marine boat is now effecting. 

In the headquarters of the American army now organiz- 
ing .for the defence of New York, the deepest anxiety pre- 
vailed as to the probable use to which the warships would 
be put. At one of these conferences the indomitable Put- 
nam proposed a scheme, the very magnitude of which must 
have caused many a heart to sink, in view of the difficulties 
it involved. 

It was no less than a proposal to block the great estuary 
of the Hudson, at its narrowest point, with sunken vessels, 
to be provided with poles protruding from their decks to 
or near the surface, and so to force any vessels which might 
and probably would attempt to force their way up the river 
in the rear of the city, to pass so close to land defences as to 


endanger them. Similar discussions were taking place on 
the British flag-ship, between the Governor Tryon, with 
" many gentlemen attending him," and Sir William and his 
brother. Lord Howe. The expediency of despatching a naval 
force up the North River was discussed, the special object 
being the obstruction of supplies to the American troops. 
While this proposal was under consideration, the troops were 
put ashore at Staten Island, in the new barges, of which 
nearly a hundred had been specially constructed for the 
purpose. These boats, manned by the tars of the warships, 
were destined to do the most effective service in later mili- 
tary operations. 

The American army had not, meanwhile, been idle. 
They had brought from Boston eighteen brass cannon, 
for the defence of the Battery, had secured some gun- 
powder by a shipment from France, and were busily oc- 
cupied in constructing land batteries, at the mouth of 
and up the East River, at Red Hook, Corlears Hook, and 
Hoorn's Hook, and on the North River at Paulus Hook, on 
Governor's Island, the Battery, at several points on the 
Island of Manhattan to Fort Washington. 

Some hulks were sunk in the East River at Governor's 
Island, rendering the passage of the strait less secure. But 
the most formidable defences were in course of construction 
at the upper end of the island, eleven miles up the noble 
river, at the point at which the Island thrusts a bold pro- 
montory into the tide-way, narrowing its width there to 
about one-third of that below. 


Jeffrey's Hook, now Fort Washington Point, is a spur 
of the eminence immediately behind it, which latter rises to 
the greatest altitude of any part of the island, and was 
crowned with the fortification which received and still re- 
tains the name of Washington. 

The corresponding height of the Jersey shore forms the 
abrupt southern extremity of the Palisades, and on this a 
fortification was laid out and named Fort Constitution, later 
changed to the name of Lee. 

In these two forts, the strength of their location was dis- 
counted by the feeble capacity of their artillery, which con- 
sisted, in Fort Washington of but two of eighteen pound 
capacity, the larger part being the little cast guns taken 
from the old Fort at the lower end of the Island. 

Matters stood thus when various shifts of the warships 
presaged some movement of importance. Men of war made 
their way through the Narrows, the "Asia" and the "Grey- 
hound" took up new positions, and the American army was 
kept under arms day and night in anticipation of some 
attempt upon the city. 

In the afternoon of Saturday, July 12th, the frigate 
"Phoenix" made signal to the "Rose," a thirty-gun frigate, 
commanded by Sir James Wallace, and both hove anchor, 
and with their tenders the "Shuldham" and the "Charlotta," 
accompanied by the armed schooner "Tryal," stood boldly 
up the North River before a favoring wind and tide. As 
their intention was perceived, a cannonade started from the 
American batteries at Red Hook, Governor's Island, and 

from Paulus Hook. As they passed the city, keeping well 
over towards the Jersey shore, their long silent guns were 
opened upon the town, and shocking scenes of panic and 
distress resulted. The unexpectedness of the incursion had 
given no opportunity for the removal of the helpless inhabi- 
tants, and as Washington described the scene, "the shrieks 

Pravincial New York. 

" and cries of these poor creatures, running every way with 
" their children, were truly distressing." 

" The smoke of the firing," says Shewkirk's diary, " drew 
" over our street like a cloud, and the air was filled with the 
" smell of the powder." 

The ships were struck by several shot, but I'eceived no 
damage sufficient to stay them, while on the other hand, 
the excitement of the situation and the inexperience of the 
men; led to the premature discharge of guns by which six 
American lives were sacrificed. 

The fire was fast and furious. Colonel Kemble said that 
one hundred and ninety-six shots were fired by the batteries 
at the Red Hook, the Battery and at Paulus Hook, From 
every muzzle that could be brought to bear, the American 
gunners in this their first naval engagement, did their best 
to halt the progress of the vessels, which as they neared the 
narrow passage at Jeffrey's Hook, faced a formidable 

Bags of sand were piled high on their upper decks as a 
protection against the rifle fire they expected and received, 
as they passed the zone of fire of the elevated batteries on 
either hand. 

In the quiet reading room of the Record Office in London, 
it was strange to read, in the faded ink of the writing of 
the master of the "Rose," the account of the action from the 
British side. In the quaint abbreviations of the ship-master, 
and his defective spelling, he tells how, "at i/^ past 3 the 
" Rebels began a Constant firing on us and the 'Phenix.' 
" From the Red Hook, Governor's Island, Powles Hook, and 
" the Town as we past, and continued there firing from 6 
" different Batterys on the E't shore above the Town for 11 
"mile as high as Margett's Hook," and how they "shot 
" away the Starboard foreshroud Fore tackle Pendant fore- 
" lift, fore topsail Clew line Spiritsail and main topsail 
" Braces" with "one 10 pound Shott thr'o the head of the 
"foremast, one through the Pinnace several thr'o the sails 
" and some in the hull." 

But the American gunners' "most terrible fire," as Gen- 
eral Greene described it, proved insufficient to stay the 
progress of the two bold frigates, as with their little tenders 
between them, shrouded in the smoke of their broadsides, 
they passed with swelling sails and favoring tide through 
the growing heights, out of the last long range shots of the 
guns in Fort Washington, and came to anchor in the quiet 
waters of Tappan Bay, "with the Best Bower in 61/^ f'm 
" low water soft bottom," and spent the rest of the evening 
in making repairs, their commanders no doubt congratulat- 
ing each other that at last they had seen some real action 
and had gained a decidedly advantageous position for the 
British Navy. 

A feeling little short of consternation resulted in the 
American councils. This bold and gallant incursion might 
be succeeded by the passage of still more powerful vessels, 
which might endanger the entire effort to hold New York. 
The dangers were increased by the arrival at this time of 
the main body of the fleet, commanded by Richard, Lord 
Howe, with transports containing the British Guard Regi- 
ments and the Hessian First Brigade. The reverberations of 
the shotted batteries up river had barely ceased before the 
roar of the saluting guns welcoming the arrival of these for- 
midable reinforcements was heard. Now the full measure of 
the stupendous sea supremacy of Britain was shown, as 
four hundred vessels of all sorts and sizes, many of them 
war vessels of the latest design, and every one an added 
menace to the cause of liberty, lay swinging the flag of 

England over the lower bay, a vaster Armada than had 
ever before been gathered. 

The immensity of the effort illustrates the determination 
of the British Government to crush, once for all, any further 
resistance to the King's authority. 

A strenuous effort w^as now made to carry out the plan 
of General Putnam, and obstruct the river at Jeffrey's Hook. 
A survey was made by General Mifflen, selected for the duty 
on account of his reputation for "activity and fire," and Gen- 
eral Washington expressed himself "extremely anxious 
" about the obstruction of the Channel, and measures are 
" daily used for executing that purpose." 

The work was entrusted to Colonel Robert Magaw, com- 
mandant of Fort Washington, and it was carried out in the 
vicinity of that position. The Point has two sandy beaches 
still presenting, in their rocky surroundings, the natural 
features which existed in those excited times. This part 
of the river shore must have presented a scene of great 
activity. On the heights above, the Pennsylvania troops 
were busily engaged in constructing the embankments of 
Fort Washington, while below at the Hook, the preparation 
of condemned vessels for their last long plunge proceeded. 

Heath describes the process, as the sinking of hulls and 
" frames called chevaux-de-frise, composed of large and long 
" timbers framed together with points elevated to pierce and 
" stop the way of vessels meeting of them. These were 
" boxed at the bottom to contain a vast weight of stones — 
" with which they were sunk. A line of these, and hulks, 

" was formed across the River ; some of them sank very 
" well, others, rather irregular, and some of the hulks which 
" were strapped together with large timbers, separated on 
" going down." 

The execution of this important scheme was directed to 
be kept as secret as possible, and all preparations for it were 
to be made as though destined for the East River. 

The vessels sunk were commandeered from merchant 
owners. The work when completed, left the channel close 
to the Hook, on the extremity of which a small "demi-" or 
half -moon earthwork was constructed, the traces of which 
can still be seen. In this was probably mounted a sin- 
gle gun. 

While the effectiveness of this great work was somewhat 
weakened by the force of the tides, its moral effect would 
have been great had it not been for the treachery of luke- 
warm and jealous persons in the American ranks, by whom 
the facts and details were communicated to the British 

The risk of such surreptitious information was antici- 
pated by Washington, who made preparations for a sufficient 
force to be maintained at Fort Washington and Fort Lee, to 
resist any naval and military attempt upon the locality of 
the obstructions. 

A deserter took information to the commander of the 
"Phoenix" as to the risk which his squadron ran. 

Meantime, the squadron, against whose security these 
great exertions were mainly directed, in the hope of trap- 

ping them in their position up the river, lay anchored in 
the Tappan Zee, not altogether in quietude, since they were 
obliged to shift their quarters from day to day, to keep out 
of musket shot from points on the shores. 

Their barges were busy by daylight taking soundings 
for the guidance of future naval operations, and by night 
paddling up and down on patrol against night surprises, 
as well as communicating, under cover of darkness, with 
the boats of Tories of Westchester and Dutchess counties. 

Their menacing presence was resented by the men of the 
American marine, and under the bold guidance of Tupper, 
an attempt was made in six open galleys or flat boats, the 
hardihood of which has seldom been surpassed, to cut out 
the two powerful frigates in broad daylight, in the neighbor- 
hood of TarrytoAvn, where they then lay. 

The warships had received some warning of the inten- 
tion of this attack, and were on their guard to make the 
attempt doubly hazardous. They had been aground, and it 
was probably by that fact that the attack was timed, but 
by the time it was made, both ships had swung free, and 
lay with springs on their cables, and broadside guns shotted 
ready for action. Some idea of the disparity of forces is 
gained from the statement that, "the ground tier of even 
" one' side of the 'Phoenix' was. equal to all the force of our 
" galleys put together." 

The galleys were stated by the British to carry twenty- 
four and eighteen pounders, and about two hundred and 


fifty men, while the boats, of which there were twelve, car- 
ried from sixty to one hundred men each. 

" The enterprise," says an eye-witness, " was worthy of 
" a people contending for their dearest rights." " Let our 
" enemies judge," he continues, "if the sons of Connecticut 
" and Rhode Island, from which States our galleys were 
" almost wholly manned, did not behave with a spirit and 
" intrepidity becoming the descendants of such noble an- 
" cestry." The little force started from Tarrytown and 
were engaged for upwards of two hours, sustaining great 
damage, as might be expected, but giving the frigates a hard 
time of it, and hulling them repeatedly with their bow- 
chaser guns. They lost two men killed and fourteen 
wounded, and their galleys they ran ashore, but their spirits 
were undimmed by the result. "We hope," said one, "to 
" have another touch at these pirates before they leave our 
" river, which God prosper." 

On the American side, the intruders were closely 
watched, and were aware of the peculiar hostility they ex- 
cited, requiring a constant vigilance and shifting of their 
anchorage to avoid further surprise. "I believe," wrote 
Colonel William Douglas to his wife, "they would be glad 
" if they were safe back to their old station, (by their 
" motion) ." 

While these events were transpiring in the Hudson River, 
another naval expedition was sent out from the Bay. Three 
frigates with thirty transports were reported "to be gone 


" around the east end of Long Island," a new menace to the 
rear of the American defence of the city. 

The little floating force of the Americans was meantime 
busy with preparations for another and even more hazard- 
ous attempt upon the squadron up river. The desperate 
need for some measures which might combat the naval force 
and especially such means as would render the position of 
the squadron untenable, directed attention to the methods 
proposed by Captain Hazlewood of Philadelphia, and 
Ephraim Anderson for the use of fire. Hazlewood had a 
scheme for preparing fire-vessels, so as to make them ex- 
tremely dangerous to other craft, and Anderson was already 
engaged in building fire-rafts to be chained together and 
floated on to a hostile fleet. Both these men's services were 
secured by Congress, and Hazlewood was despatched to 

He surveyed the situation, and then went up to Pough- 
keepsie, where he secured the sloop "Polly," of about one 
hundred tons burden, and a schooner, unnamed, of somewhat 
less size. These he filled to their decks, as far aft as their 
cabins, with sawn and split cord wood dipped in pitch, inter- 
spersed with bundles of straw cut to short lengths, and also 
dipped in pitch. 

The two craft were worked down to Spuyten Duyvil 
Creek, and there concealed, while the final addition to their 
inflammable outfit was made in the shape of canvas strips 
soaked in turpentine and secured to their rigging. 

By the second week in August the two fire vessels were 
ready for a demonstration of their efficiency. 

On several nights the anticipation of their despatch 
against the British shipping led parties of intensely inter- 
ested observers to points on the Riverdale hillsides, whence 
a distant view could be obtained of the hostile squadron. 

The night of Friday, August 16th, was cloudy and dark 
enough for the desperate attempt, and only a lack of wind 
was adverse to the success of the enterprise. 

At the dead of night and in a drizzling rain, the volunteer 
crews took their posts, and in the tow of row-galleys, were 
hauled out of the shadows of the creek, and swung up river 
on their perilous journey. On the deck of each the tiller was 
held by a steersman, and along the bulwarks were 
crouched his crew with grappling irons, while below, in each 
little cabin was the fireman, who had volunteered to set fire 
to the combustibles in the interior at the word of command, 
and was then to make his escape out of a hole cut in the side 
of the craft. 

A whaleboat was towed alongside the quarter in which 
two men sat ready to cut the lashings as soon as the crew, 
after grappling and firing should have tumbled overboard. 

The dangerous duty of fireman was undertaken by Joseph 
Bass, on the "Polly," and by Sergeant Thomas of Webb's 
Massachusetts Regiment, on the schooner. 

Ensign Thomas Updike Fosdick, of the same regiment, 
steered the sloop and the -deck hands numbered seven on 
one and five on the other boat. 

The commanders of the hostile vessels had obtained some 
inkling of the probability of renewed attacks, and shifted 
their positions almost daily. They were anchored this night 
under the shadow of the Palisades, a mile or two above the 
town of Yonkers, and with springs on their cables, ready 
to cut loose at short notice, they lay in line; the "Phoenix" 
furthest south, the "Rose" next, then the "Tryal," the "Char- 
lotta," and the "Shuldham." 

On the heights below Yonkers was gathered a group of 
American officers, including Heath and Clinton, who as the 
hour of midnight approached, made out the dim forms of 
the fire vessels, their ghost-like rags trailing from every 
spar, "silently running up with the tide." 

The steersmen endeavored to work them over across the 
river, and in the shadow of the Jersey cliffs nearly missed 
their prey. So dark was it, that the first intimation of their 
proximity was the cry of the British sentinels, "All is well," 
as the ships' bells were struck for the eleventh hour. 

Swinging hard over, the "Polly" just missed the "Rose," 
but Fosdick ran her fairly head on to the "Charlotta." In- 
stantly the grappling irons were thrown, the vessels made 
fast together, and the word was passed to Bass, who, plung- 
ing his torches into the combustible mass around him, sprang 
out into the whale-boat with all his men, the almost explo- 
sive effect of the ignition being shown by the fact that the 
last men to get overboard were "somewhat burnt." 

The mass of inflammable material was ablaze in a few 
seconds, and the flames shot high, illuminating the scene of 


action. The schooner following at some little distance, was 
thus enabled to make for the "Phoenix," and although a little 
too late to fetch square on to her, she succeeded in falling into 
her rigging, but received the contents of her broadside guns 
from her now aroused crew. Her grapples thrown, she was 
fired by Thomas, who, probably in the confusion engendered 

The fight of the Fireships. 

by the cannon being fired almost point-blank alongside, found 
his retreat cut off by the flames he had started, and with his 
deck hands, had to spring overboard into the dark waters. 

The scene must have been singular and weird. The 
"horrid flames" of the fire-ships and of the burning "Char- 
lotta," mingled with the smoke of the guns, while the shouts 
of officers and men were heard on shore, as the crew 


swarmed the rigging of the "Phoenix," or tumbled into the 
ships' barges in the effort to save the lives of those on board 
the tender. These poor panic-stricken creatures, some of 
whom it is stated were women and children, probably Tory 
refugees, were emerging from their quarters in the utmost 
consternation. Several perished in the flames, many in the 
running tideway, others were rescued by boats from the 
fleet, as the "Ketch," parting from her moorings, drifted, 
flaming, toward the shore. 

The crew of the "Phoenix," at the risk of their lives, made 
superhuman exertions to save their vessel from her imminent 
peril; luckily for her, the wind was too light to drive thfe 
flames aboard, and by cutting away her own rigging, they 
got her free from the grasp of her dangerous visitor. 

"A number of seamen ascended and got out on the yard 
" arm, supposed to clear away some of the grapplings. The 
" fire vessel was alongside, as was judged" by the excited 
watchers ashore, "near ten minutes, when the 'Phoenix' cut 
" or slipped her cables, let fall her fore top sail, wore round, 
" and stood up the river, being immediately veiled from the 
" spectators by the darkness of the night," thus escaping by 
a very narrow margin what would have proved her total 
destruction, had the flames reached her magazines. 

The account of the affair from the point of view of those 
on the vessels, may be read in the handwriting of the cap- 
tain's log : 

" Phoenix August 16 Friday : 

" Light breezes & cloudy P. M. at 8 sent a Boat to row 
Guard. At 11 discovered a Vessel near us and standing up 
the river. The Rose's Tender being near us hail'd and or- 
dered her to fire into the above vessel in 5 seconds the Rebel 
vessel Board the Tender, and was sett Fire too by the light 
we discovered another vessel standing towards us about 
Cable's length distance. Immediately we Cutt our Cable & 
began fireing at Her. About 10 Minutes Afterwards she 
Boarded us on our Starboard Bow. At the same time Rebels 
sett fire to the Train and left Her sett our Headsails which 
Fortunately cast the ship and disingaged us from the Fire 
ship after She having been twenty minutes with her Jibb 
Boom over our Gunwale. The Rose's Tender was totally 
consumed the same fate must have attended the Phoenix had 
not the steadyness of the Officers and Ships Company saved 

As it was, the material injury to the squadron was se- 
vere, about seventy lives were sacrificed, and the "Charlotta" 
was a complete wreck, burnt to the water's edge. The moral 
effect was the greatest gain to the American cause, since 
it demonstrated the insecurity of these powerful vessels in 
narrow waters, when unsupported by troops on land, 
and forced upon the attention of the naval commanders a 
recognition of the untiring ingenuity and daring of their 
poorly-equipped opponents. 

The attack is shown as one of the large features of the 


campaign, in a Navy Map prepared and issued by the 
English Admiralty in January, 1777, on which the squadron 
is occupying a station on the North River opposite the 
mouth of the Nepperhan, or Yonkers. 

So great was the impression which this event created, 
that a sketch made by Sir Richard Wallace, of the "Rose," 
was made the basis of a painting by Serres, and this was 
afterwards reproduced in a naval history of Great Britain, 
from which another reproduction was made for Valentine's 
Manual, in 1864. 

The painting rather characteristically omits from the 
dramatic scene the loss of the "Charlotta," directing atten- 
tion chiefly to the rescue of the frigate "Phoenix" from the 
clutches of the burning schooner. But it forms an interest- 
ing record by an interested observer of the affair, and is 
a striking illustration of the disparity of forces between at- 
tackers and attacked. 

A contemporary account which has an unusual personal 
interest, was contained in a long letter which was written 
by Captain Nathan Hale, addressed to his brother Enoch, 
on August 20, 1776. Hale was at the time serving with his 
regiment in the defences of Washington Heights, and only 
one month later his own gallant action and death was the 
theme of discussion in the camp. 

" Last Friday night," he wrote, " two of our fire vessels 
" (a sloop and a schooner) made an attempt upon the ship- 
" ping up the River. The night was too dark, the wind too 
•' slack, for the attempt. The schooner which was intended 


" for one of the ships had got by before she discovered 
" them ; but as Providence would have it, she ran athwart 
" a bomb-catch which she quickly burned. The sloop, by the 
" light of the fire, discovered the Phoenix — ^but rather too 
" late — ^however, she made shift to grapple her, but the wind 
" not proving sufficient to bring her close alongside, or drive 
" the flames immediately on board, the Phoenix after much 
" difficulty, got her clear by cutting her own rigging. Ser- 
" geant Fosdick, who commands the above sloop, and four 
" of his hands, were of my company, the remaining two were 
" of the Regiment." 

"The General has been pleased to reward their bravery 
" with forty dollars each, except the last man who quitted 
" the fire sloop, who had fifty. Those on board the schooner 
"received the same." 



The next day three daring members of the American 
marine force, a lieutenant and two men, succeeded in float- 
ing and towing the burnt hull of the "Charlotta" down to 
Fort Washington, undisturbed by the guns of the frigates. 
They beached their prize, out of which were taken her arma- 


ment, a 6-pound gun, three carronades, and ten swivel 
pieces; the hazardous undertaking being carried out "in a 
" manner reflecting great credit upon their enterprize and 
" courage." 

Among the annals of our nation this attack, as an ex- 
hibition of patriotic determination surely deserves a larger 
place than it has heretofore been accorded. 

The disturbing effect upon the enemy was soon apparent. 
The statement given out was to the effect that their retreat 
was due to their having expended their ammunition, which 
does not seem to have been likely, as they had used little 
after their first ascent of the river. If they were short of 
missiles, they probably fired some of those destructive bar- 
shot, which were intended to be used for the destruction of 
rigging and sails of other vessels, of which specimens have 
been found at a number of places on Washington Heights. 
The commanders waited only for wind, during one more 
night of anxiety, before making a retreat, and at dawn on 
Sunday, August 18th, hoisting anchor, they drove down 
river before a fresh north-east breeze and favoring tide. 
As they drew within the fire zone of Forts Washington and 
Lee, they were met by a furious cannonade. The officers 
commanding the shore fortifications were in high hopes of 
their being caught by the obstructions, but the information 
they had gained from the deserter had informed them of 
the gap which was intended to have been closed and would 
have been completed only a day or two later, so that stand- 
ing close in under the Point, and running great risk from 


the guns of Fort Washington at short range, they succeeded 
in passing through. 

The "Phoenix" was hulled three times by round shot from 
the Fort, while the "Rose" received a number of shot and 
her rigging was torn. Their crews were kept close below 
decks in order to avoid the fire of the picked shots who were 
posted among the rocks and trees of Jeffrey's Hook, and the 
riflemen received the point blank fire of the frigates as they 
passed. Their shot, buried deep in the soil, have been found 
in and around Fort Washington Park, As they swung fur- 
ther down river, a continuous salute of fire greeted them 
from the batteries along the shore to the lower part of the 
Island, to which they replied in kind, and, followed to the 
Narrows by American row-galleys which "played smartly" 
upon them, they bombarded the city again as they ap- 
proached and passed. "The fright," says the Moravian 
Diarist, "seemed not to be so great as it was when they went 
" up, and yet the balls hurt more houses ; some men were 
" likewise hurt." 

Their return down the river or the probability of other 
ships advancing to their aid, had been somewhat anticipated 
in New York, and on the Saturday a proclamation in the 
town had warned the inhabitants to remove the women and 
the sick, "as a bombardment was expected." 
"By His Excellency 

George Washington, Esquire, General, and Commander 
in Chief of the Army of the United States of North America. 

■ Whereas a Bombardment and Attack upon the City of 


New York, by our Cruel and inveterate Enemy, may be 

hourly expected: 

And as there are great Numbers of Women, Children 
and infirm Persons, yet remaining in the City, whose 
Continuance will rather be prejudicial than advantageous 
to the Army, and their Persons exposed to great Danger 
and Hazard: I Do therefore recommend it to all such 
Persons as they Value their own Safety and Preservation, 
to remove with all Expedition, out of the said Town, at 
this critical Period, — trusting, that with the Blessing of 
Heaven, upon the American Arms, they may soon re- 
turn to it in perfect Security. 

And I do enjoin and require, all the Oflficers and Sol- 
diers in the Army, under my Command, to forward and 
assist such Persons in their Compliance with this Recom- 

Given under my Hand, at Head Quarters, New York, 
August 17, 1776. 

George Washington." 
The expected bombardment came the next day, as the 

log books of the "Phoenix" and "Rose" record: — 
The Captain of the Phoenix wrote : — 

"Phoenix, Sunday 18th August. 
"At 5 p. m. weighed and came to sail in company wth 

H. M. Ship Rose, Tryal Schooner and Shuldham Tender. 

At 20 minutes past the Rebels began fireing at us from a 

Battery on the East side of the River — about 7 minutes we 

pass'd by there sunking vessels &c. in a channel close by 


the East shore — we no sooner pass'd the sunken Vessels 
than some Batterys on the West shore began firing at us. 
About 7 being gott almost as low as York we commenced 
firing at some Batterys on York Island. Soon after Bat- 
terys on Pawlos Hook — Governor Isld and Eed Hook began 
firing at us and we at them . . . anch'd off Staten Isl. 
In passing the Batterys the shott from the Rebels sunk 
the Long Boat as she was towing a Stern — by which we lost 
a stream cable that was in her, oars &c. — ^had our riging 
and sails much damaged." 

Sir Richard Wallace's account gave some more details 
of the running fight : — 

"Remarks on Bd His Maj'ys Ship Rose: 

"First part light Bree's and hazey — Middle little wind 
with hard Showers of Hail — latter fresh Gales. A.M. at 5 
weighd and came to sail — as did H. M. Ship Phenix, Tryal 
Schooner & Shuldham Tender Steerd down the River — at 
% past 5 the past the Chiver de fries's within i/^ a Musquet 
shot of the Rebel Battery on the Eastern Shore — the Rebels 
began firing on us from a high Hill on which they had a 
fort on the western shore & another on the East shore & 
a heavy fire of Musquettry from a Breastwork under the 
battery — returned the Fire — when we came abreast of New 
York rec'd a heavy Fire from 11 Batterys viz. the Town, 
Powles Hook, Governors Island and Red Hook — d° returned 
a constant fire. Had 2 Men wounded some of the rigging 
shott away & some in the Hull." 

General Washington was actively following these events. 


From the city he wrote to Heath : "The ships of war and 
"tenders were fired at from the batteries here as they 
"passed, and I suppose received similar damages to what 
"they met with from the forts at Mount Washington and 
"Burdit Ferry," and to Knox, he wrote to learn why the gal- 
lies were not more active. 

It seemed more than probable that a retaliatory attack 
might be made by the naval force in the North River, and 
therefore Heath was directed to have men ready to march 
south from the Mount Washington in case any shipping 
came up the River. The limited character of the defences 
is indicated by the suggestion that "two or even four pieces 
of cannon might be spared from Fort Washington to the 
post over the bridge," that is to the Forts on Spuyten 
Duyvil hill, "but query if it might not do to run them from 
thence when occasion shall seem to require it." 

General Heath, who was in command of the troops 
camped at and near Kings Bridge, had a scheme for con- 
structing a floating bridge across the Haerlem River, to sup- 
plement the little Kings Bridge and Farmers Bridge, and 
provide means to transfer cannon from Fort Washington 
to the north and proposed in the absence of other craft that 
the fire-rafts, which had been prepared in Spuyten Duyvil 
Creek for further operations on the frigates, should now be 
taken for that purpose. 

The British military preparations were now completed 
and were probably somewhat determined, if not modified, 

by the report of Captain Parker upon the information 
gained during his five weeks absence up the River. 

The descent upon Long Island was arranged, and on 
August 22nd, at early dawn, the "Phoenix" and "Rose," 
accompanied by the "Greyhound," with the bomb-ketches, 
"Carcass" and "Thunder," acted as guards during the dis- 
embarkation of the troops at the north part of Gravesend 
Bay, while Sir George Collier, commanding the 50-gun ship, 
"Rainbow," brought her to a station within the Narrows 
above the present position of Fort Hamilton, and the "Car- 
rysfort" frigate advanced between the Staten Island Camp 
and the American battery at Red Hook. The tars of other 
men-of-war manned more than eighty of the flat-boats and 
ship's galleys, and made the transfer of the troops from 
their Camp on the Staten Island side, rowing no less than 
ten times to-and-fro across the water of the Narrows. The 
transports which bore the Hessian division were also 
brought up in Gravesend Bay, a little after 9 in the morning, 
and their disembarkation was directed by Admiral Lord 
Howe in person. The landing of this great force could not 
have been prevented by any means the Americans possessed, 
under the guns of so formidable a marine force, and no 
attempt was made to do so. But active watch was kept on 
the East River, where the sentinels were instructed to pre- 
vent any vessel passing the sunken hulks near Governor's 
" Island except between the Albany pier and a mast in the 
" river nearly opposite." 

Four days elapsed before the battle of Long Island took 

place, in which engagement the now well-known vessels took 
but little part, though the "Roebuck," another 32-gun 
frigate, worked her way into Gowanus Bay, and actively 
engaged the garrison of "Fort Defiance" on Red Hook. 

Away to the east, in anticipation of the British General's 
plan of enveloping the American army, two frigates, the 
"La Brune" and the "Niger," were anchored in Flushing 
Bay, with a bomb-ketch, their boat crews being occupied 
in sallies along the inlets of the Bronx and Eastchester, 
helping themselves to fresh meat and provender at the 
expense of the unfortunate Westchester farmers. 

The British fleet failed to effect any movement in the 
direction of the rear of the American army, and no attempt 
was made to force the East River. A garrison stood on 
duty day and night on Governor's Island, but the wind failed 
and the ships could not get up from the lower Bay. The 
fate of the American army hung on this slender circum- 
stance, while the depleted and defeated forces stood dog- 
gedly at their entrenchments in Brooklyn, and the British 
and Hessians sapped their way towards them. 

The opportunity of withdrawal of the army was also 
afforded by the rather unusual weather conditions, and the 
famous fog of August 29th, helped the Americans directly 
by concealment, and at the same time rendered the war- 
ships helpless. The withdrawal was effected without any 
hindrance by armed boats, which might have been sent 
with some probability of success. 

The author of the history of the Coldstream Guards 

" This retreat of the Americans must necessarily have 
" been anticipated, and the naval department is justly 
" chargeable with negligence, as the depth in the East River 
" was sufficient for vessels of the largest description, and 
'■ a single ship, stationed between Long Island and New 
" York, would have cut off all intercourse between them." 

But this view does not take into account the reputation 
which the American army had established for vigorous de- 
fence of the passage, the strength of which was prob- 
ably not fully ascertained at this occasion. 

The English author of the "Impartial History of the 
" War in America," asserts that "the warships only waited 
" for a fair wind to enter and take possession of the East 
" River, which would have totally cut off all communication 
" between the islands." The retreat, he says, was "exceed- 
" ingly difficult under the watchful eye of an active enemy — 
" almost close to their works." The effort "required an 
" extraordinary address to conduct it and must be allowed 
" a master-piece in its kind in the art of war. It showed 
" plainly that General Washington knew how to profit by 
" the miscarriage of others, and had the capacity to turn 
" his misfortune to his own honour." 

The British commander was now advantageously placed 
for a descent upon New York Island, the main object of 
the naval and military campaign, as soon as he should be 
able to get his flat boats up the East River, a problem not 

altogether easy, in view of the marksmanship heretofore 
shown by the American forces. The exposed position of 
the defending force on Governor's Island led to their with- 
drawal, and within a few days the British had discovered 
the fact, and had taken possession of its spiked guns. On 
the 3rd of September, the first effort was made by the Fleet 
to force the East River's real or imaginary obstructions. 
The "Rose" was selected for the attempt. She chose the 
Buttermilk Channel, made her way through, and with thirty 
flat boats pulling under her lee, took the fire of the forts 
all the way up past Wallabout, finally taking shelter, "after 
" a severe cannonade from us," behind Blackwell's" Island. 
Here she lay a day, and having thus secured the passage 
of the boats into Newtown Creek, made a retreat as far 
as Wallabout Bay (the depth of which gave her some dis- 
tance from the forts). Here she remained, however, the 
target for the gunners of the Corlears Hook battery, until 

The "Niger" and "La Brune," accompanied by thejr 
bomb-ketch, had, meantime, moved down the Sound from 
their anchorage near City Island, and working as close to 
the dangers of Hell Gate as their commanders dared, they 
aided the land forces on Long Island in bombarding a small 
American redoubt at Horn's Hook. Accompanying the 
success of this bold manoeuvre, other vessels from the main 
fieet in the lower Bay were advanced, the warships work- 
ing their way to a point "about long cannon shot from the 
"Battery," without firing on either side. Troops were 


landed on Montresor's Island, and other detachments occu- 
pied the islets around the waters of Hell Gate, plundering 
the residences thereon. 

The Americans were awaiting the next move on the 
marine chess-board, doubtfully expecting a landing either 
at Harlem or at Morrisania, and still working with feverish 
energy to strengthen the blockade of the Hudson, on which 
Washington's chief dependence was now placed. He wrote 
to Heath, "In particular, I must request of you that the 
" chevaux-de-frise be immediately sunk. Was it in my 
" power to send you Colonel Putnam, I would willingly com- 
" ply with your request." 

Putnam was the engineer of the army, and his help had 
been asked in advancing the difficult operation. Tide and 
storm had aflfected those vessels already sunk, and some of 
the frames of the chevaux-de-frise had become detached, 
and not being secured in time, floated off. There were but 
three hundred men at Fort Washington at this time, as 
the Pennsylvania troops had been withdrawn to aid the 
army and help garrison New York after the defeat in the 
Long Island engagement. They could accomplish little 
except to keep a good lookout against surprise. 

No move was made by the ships for ten days; when on 
the afternoon tide of the 13th and 14th of September, the 
ever ready "Phoenix" and her companion, the "Roebuck," 
convoying more flat boats, pushed their way up the East 
River, and joined the "Rose," all coming to anchor at Kips 
Bay. Here they were joined by the frigates "Carrysfort" 


and "Orpheus," commanded by Captains Fanshaw and Hud- 
son, with two transport vessels full of troops. For their 
gallantry in running the gauntlet of the Batteries, these 
commanders were commended by the Admiral in a later 

The next attack was evidently threatened from that 
direction, and the arrangements portended some effort 
to land a force and to trap the Americans in the lower part 
of the Island. Preparations already making for the evacua- 
tion of the town were, therefore, hastened ; the removal of 
the sick, the stores, and the baggage, taxing the overworked 
men of the American army to the limit of their strength. 

The quiet of the early morn on the succeeding Sunday 
was disturbed by the passage up both the East and North 
Rivers, of more vessels, greeted from Powles Hook Battery, 
and by the few remaining artillerists in the city, with an 
energetic fire. The squadron advancing up the North River 
was led by the "Asia," and the British map by Faden — 
authorized only a month later, shows His Majesty's ships 
"Renown," Captain Banks, and "Repulse," Captain Davis. 
The 20-gun frigate "Pearl," under Captain Wilkinson, with 
the "Tryal," armed schooner, were with these ships, and 
all brought up and anchored in the river off Bloomingdale, 
about the line of 100th Street. This squadron was designed 
to menace any retreat of the American forces on the west 
side of Manhattan Island, and especially to stop the re- 
moval of stores, which was then proceeding by water. The 


evident intention of the whole scheme was to trap the entire 
American forces within the lower part of the island. 

Meantime, the five frigates in the East River, led by the 
"Phoenix," had taken positions in line at Kips Bay, where, 
with springs on their cables, they lay in deep water, but 
within musket-shot of the shore. So close were they, that 
the cry, "All's well," of the American sentries ashore, was 
answered by a mocking hail from one of the frigates— "We 
" will alter your tune before to-morrow night !" Along the 
shore, a line of hastily constructed entrenchments had been 
thrown up, manned by Connecticut troops. 

Between 10 and 11 a. m. on the following morning, on 
a signal from the Long Island shore, where the British and 
Hessian forces had embarked unseen in the flat boats within 
the shelter of Newtown Creek, a terrific fire of grape shot 
was suddenly opened from the broadsides of these five 
ships upon the shore defences, which, consisting only of 
slender earthen embankments, proved totally inadequate as 
a protection or cover for the men. Under this withering 
hail of shot from the eighty guns in the broadside of the 
frigates, the landing of British flat boats, which numbered 
eighty-four in all, was easily effected, and the troops were 
able to form and advance without serious opposition. The 
effect of the awful fire that preceded them was felt in the 
collapse of all resistance to their advance. As Kemble de- 
scribes it, resistance was impossible within half-a-mile 
of the shore line. Washington rode hastily to the scene 
upon the sound of the gunfire, but reached the vicinity only 

to find the American force falling back in a hasty retreat.* 
The escape of the rear guard of artillerymen, which had 
been left to the last moment in New York City, to stave off 
the approach of the warships was effected by boats trans- 
ferring them to Paulus Hook, and the withdrawal of the 
last of the patriotic forces from the" City to the Heights of 
Harlem and Mount Washington, was effected, much to the 
chagrin of the British commanders. The exciting events 
of the 15th of September terminated in the landing of 
officers of the British fleet, near the then Battery, who 
hauled up the British flag in the City of New York, to be 
lowered again only after seven long years of strife and 
effort to maintain its possession. 

The oflScial British description of the Kips Bay landing 
is given in a despatch from Vice-Admiral Lord Howe, dated 
the 18th of the month : 

" I have the satisfaction of being able to inform their 
" Lordships that a disposition having been made for land- 
■' ing the army on York Island, on the morning of the 15th, 
" the Captains Parker and Wallace, whose abilities and dis- 
" tinguished resolution point them out for the most impor- 
" tant services, with the Captains Fanshaw, Hammond and 
" Hudson, officers of great merit, passed the fire of the town 
" of New York, with their ships on the evening of the 13th, 
" to wait off Bushwick Creek, opposite to Kepp's Bay, where 
" the landing was proposed to bp forced in the East River. 

• The retreatine troops were blamed by Washinsrton and have been censured 
in every history, for their _ abandonment of the defence; but they scarcely deserved 
such harsh criticism in view of the overwhelming character of the artillery op- 
posed to them. 


" The pilots declining, on account of the strength of the 
"tide, to take charge of the particular covering ships that 
" were intended to be placed towards Hell Gate for coun- 
" tenancing the appearance of a descent on that part of the 
" coast, all were placed in the Kepp's Bay on the morning 
" of the 15th, and having, by the effect of their well-directed 
" fire, compelled the Rebels to quit their entrenchments upon 
" the shore, the debarkation was made without further 
" opposition." 

Some risky and effective work was done in the removal 
of the American supplies by the little vessel "Fortune," 
under the command of Anthony Glean. At dead of night 
she was run from the East River round to the North River, 
and was safely got up to Fort Washington, being laden with 
provisions and military stores. She was quickly unladen, 
and was despatched back again with a sergeant's guard 
of twelve men, almost into the jaws of the enemy at the 
city. But after loading on board fifty-seven wounded and 
disabled men, and some more of the stores, she successfully 
got away, and landed her stores on the Jersey shore below 
the guns of Fort Constitution, whence she proceeded to 
Dobb's Ferry, where the men were safely disembarked. 
This little vessel afterwards became a Continental trans- 
port on the Hudson, and eventually fell a victim to fire in 
the British attack on Esopus. 

The British squadron, anchored off Bloomingdale, was 
not long left undisturbed. On the same afternoon's tide four 
of the American fire-rafts in succession were floated down 


upon them from Jeffrey's Hook, by which they "narrowly es- 
" caped destruction," the boldness of the attack being again 
discounted by partial ill-success, due to the strong tide. The 
dangerous attempt was conducted by Captain Talbot, who 
narrowly escaped with his life, although he was badly 

Lord Howe, in his despatch, said that, "in order to 
' facilitate the operations of the army in the East River, 
' another detachment of the ships of war was appointed 
' by the General's desire, to proceed up the North River to 
' give jealousy to the enemy on this side. The Renown, 
' Captain Banks, with the Captains Davis and Wilkinson 
' in the Repulse and Pearl, were ordered for that purpose 
' They passed the enemy's battery without material injury 
' early on the 15th, to a station about six miles to the north- 
'ward of the town. On the ensuing night the enemy di- 
' rected four fire-vessels in succession against them, but 
' with no other effect than of obliging the ships to move 
'their stations, the Repulse excepted. The Renown re- 
' turned on this side of the town, but the two frigates 
' remain still in the North River, with the Tryal armed 
' schooner, to strengthen the left flank of the army, extend- 
' ing to the western shore of York Island, as circumstances 
'will admit." 

That the attempt consisted of two attacks, firstly indi- 
vidual rafts and then by a trial of Anderson's method of 
chaining two fire-vessels together, after the individual rafts 
had failed, appears from a perusal of the log books of 


the "Pearl." The log books of the frigates "Renown" and 
"Repulse" have not been preserved in London, but on their 
little consort, the "Pearl," the Captain and the Master made 
notes of the event, which came perilously near ending her 

The Captain's "Remarks &c on board His Majesty's 
Ship Pearl," recorded that "At 3 P. M, was alarm'd by our 
Guard Boat, on the sudden approach of four Fire ships, 
which obliged us to Cut our small Br. (Bower) Cable and 
drop lower down. Anchor'd with the Bt Br (Best Bower) 
in 6 f m. (fathoms) water at 4 weigh'd and steer'd in shore 
& anchor'd in 5 f .m to avoid them. Two of the Fire ships 
were towed on shore, by the Boats, and the other two drove 
on shore. At 5 the Renown Cut and run down to the Fleet 
with the Schooner in Company at V^ past 8 weigh'd and 
worked up and Anchor'd with the Bt. Bower, got the end 
of the small Bower Cable in. Weigh'd the Bt Br. and 
spliced the small Do." 

In the Master's Log, of the next day, he tells the story 
in his sailor's style : — 

" at 3 was alarm'd by our Guard Boats on ye sudden 
approach of a Fire Ship which obliged the Tryal Schooner 
to Cutt and Renown to slip ye Renown anchor'd again close 
to us at % past 4 was alarm'd wt another fire ship we 
Cutt as did the Renown we run in Shore & anchor'd wt the 
Bt Br in 6 fm Ye Renown & Tryal run down to the Fleet. 
At 5 was alarm'd by 2 vessels chain'd together weigh'd 
run further in shore to avoid the fire vessels. Anchor'd in 


6 fathom. The 2 first was tow'd in shore by our Boats 
the 2 second drove down as far as Polas Hook where they 
Jickwise drove on shore." 

Captain Banks managed to extricate the l^'Renown" 
from her danger, only by cutting and slipping her cable, 
leaving her consorts, the "Repulse" and the "Pearl," which 
escaped molestation by shifting their positions, opportunely 
to protect by their fire on the following day, the retreat 
of the British and the Hessian forces in the affair known 
as the battle of Harlem Heights. The unexpected success 
of this movement drove back the British advance line to 
100th Street, and not only encouraged the American army, 
but led the invaders to adopt a policy of more prudence. 
Entrenching their position across the island, from Bloom- 
ingdale through the upper part of Central Park, they aban- 
doned further direct attacks and contented themselves with 
keeping Washington on the watch on Washington Heights. 
Meantime, the fleet of war-ships moved up in security to 
the inner bay, and a number of the transports were taken 
into the East River and the troops landed in the city. The 
effort to trap the American army in the Town had failed. 
The next effort required wider development, and prepara- 
tions to get in the rear of a more difficult position. But the 
next attempt again involved some advance up the North 
River, and another incursion through the chevaux-de-frise. 
The "Phoenix," with the "Roebuck" and the 20-gun frigate 
"Tartar," were transferred to the Bloomingdale anchorage 
from the scene of their recent operations a,t Kips Bay, 


and several other vessels were sent up to try their luck in 
getting in rear of the Americans on the east. They made 
their way through the dangers of Hell Gate, only the 
"Niger" taking ground during the operation. The "La 
Brune" took station near Morrisania in order to block the 
passage of the Harlem River. 

Congress and Convention having heard of the partial 
disintegration of the Chevaux de Frise, now became anxious 
as to the eventual success of the attempt to block the estu- 
ary, and distrusting previous reports. Captain Thomas 
Greenhill was delegated to make an accurate survey of that 
part of Hudson's river, to see if the work at Fort Wash- 
ington was effective. 

The result of his report was evidently to the effect that 
further effort was desirable, for on the 21st of September, 
a Congressional Committee was appointed to confer "as to 
" purchasing vessels or taking them at an appraisement, 
" for completing the obstructions to the navigation of Hud- 
" son's river opposite to Mount Washington." 

Washington wrote to the State Convention, asking for 
two fire-ships which were being prepared at Poughkeepsie, 
and the secret committee promptly responded by ordering 
down the Fire « vessel "Mary Anna," and also the sloop 
"Camden," which had been fitted up as a war vessel by the 
State, and they sent by the latter vessel "all such plank 
" as could be spared from the shipyard." The sloop "Clin- 
ton" was also purchased for the purpose of being sunk at 
the obstruction, and two days later two new ships were 


impressed "for the use of the Publick," which were found 
near Esopus landing, also a brig belonging to Malcom Kip, 
and finally a Fishkill brig, for all of which appraisers were 
promptly appointed. 

Captain Matthew Cook, who, under the direction of 
Colonel Eobert Magaw, acting with Colonel Tench Tilgh- 
man, Washington's aide-de-camp, was in actual charge of 
the renewed operations, was sent up river to cut special long 
lumber required for the spikes or "fraises," and on Oc- 
tober 3rd, an urgent message was sent after him to return, 
" as he is much wanted here to sink the sea vessels, the Gen- 
" eral begs that he may be sent down immediately ; we are 
" at a stand for want of him, for, as he has Superintended 
" the Matter from the Beginning he best knows the proper- 
" est places to be obstructed." 

Every effort was concentrated upon the strengthening 
and extending of the river obstructions, and Washington 
being then quartered on the Heights, at his headquarters in 
the Roger Morris house, gave personal attention to its effec- 
tiveness, corresponding daily with the Secret Committee on 
the subject. 

" If the works," wrote John Jay on October 6th, "now 
" carrying on by the General for obstructing the navigation 
" of Hudson's River at Mt. Washington, prove effectual, 
" Lord Howe must rest content with New York for this 
" campaign." Arrangements were made to reinforce the 
obstructions by a floating force of four row-galleys, provided 
each with one heavy gun, and others of lighter calibre on 


swiveling mounts. These were stationed at Fort Washing- 
ton Point, where the two vessels recently secured were 
being prepared for sinking at a point beyond those already 
laying in the river bottom. The proverbial ingenuity of 
America was developing further schemes for the undoing 
of the King's floating arsenals. David Bushnell was still 
improving his submarine craft since its failure to destroy 
the "Eagle," and it was loaded on a sloop ready for trans- 
. port to its next scene of action. 

Nearer the tide-water line than the forts on the Man- 
hattan and Jersey Heights, new defensive works were under 
construction. A rifle Redoubt was being constructed on 
Jeffrey's Hook, under the direction of Antoine Felix Imbert, 
a young French engineer officer, who had volunteered with 
other Frenchmen into the American service. He had been 
educated in military construction, and his work shows the 
effect of his training. This particular work was constructed 
by men of Scottish blood of New York, composing the regi- 
ment known as the Caledonian Rangers, and it is at this 
day one of the best preserved evidences of the work of the 
men of 1776 which remains in existence upon the Island of 
Manhattan. It is fortunately comprised, as is the Hook 
itself, within the public park, and has thus escaped the de- 
struction which the rest of the interesting remains of the 
struggle for liberty left on Washington Heights and else- 
where on Manhattan have met or are rapidly approaching. 

Many years after the war was over Captain Robert 
Smith, one of the Regimental OflUcers, passed this scene of 


his own labors, and referred to it in a letter to his wife as 
follows : "I also had a view of a battery near Fort Wash- 
" ington which I erected under the Direction of a French 
" engineer on the margin of the river in 1776, it was so 
" well constructed as to leave its remains. It brought to 
" my recollection many scenes of that day." 

The earthwork may be readily reached by descending 
the little winding roadway, locally known as Sunset 
Lane, leading through Fort Washington Park, and after 
passing over the bridge which spans the deep rock cutting 
of the railroad, a little foot-path leads sharply south up to 
the embankment. It is a three-sided rectangular work. 

The Rifle Redoubt and Monument, Fort Washington Park. 
Engagement of October 9, 1776. 


about 157 yards along its west front and about 30 yards on 
the north and south ends, cleverly placed to take advantage 
of the rocky eminence on which it stands, and to command 
a view up, down and across the noble stream. There is no 
spot wherein one can so appropriately ponder upon the des- 
perate efforts made by the patriot forces in the face not 
only of the overwhelming marine and land forces of the 
enemy, but of the colossal task which they had under- 
taken against the forces of nature. 

It is marked by a natural boulder Monument, erected 
in 1910, by the Fort Washington Chapter of the Daughters 
of the American Revolution. 

Once again the treaichery of deserters or spies conveyed 
to the naval authorities the fact that the completion of the 
obstruction was imminent, and on Wednesday, the 9th of 
October, the inactivity of the British fleet was broken. On 
the early tide, at 8 a. m., the hardy commander of the 
"Phoenix," who had once before taken the chances of the 
passage, hove anchor, and with the "Roebuck" and the "Tar- 
tar," and three tenders, the redoubtable frigate again came 
standing up the river before a southerly breeze. 

The unexpectedness of what appeared to be an attack 
in force upon the Point, threw the defenders into unneces- 
sary confusion, in a frantic effort to save the craft laying 
off the Hook from the fire of the approaching squadron. 
Instead of standing to their positions, which were at any 
rate partly protected by the batteries of Fort Washington, 
the two galleys were got under way in undue haste, an 


attempt was made to tow off the two hulks which were then 
loading, and other boats took in tow a schooner which lay 
at the Hook, unloading rum and sugar. Finally the sloop, 
bearing the important submarine, was cut loose and started 
to run. But the purpose of the squadron was only to force 
another passage through the barrier, while still incomplete, 
and so, standing straight ahead, they passed through the 
gap without damage from the picks and hulks, though suf- 
fering severely in their masts and rigging, from the fire 
of all the batteries concentrated upon them. With their 
previous experience to guide their commanders, the crews 
were carefully kept below decks, but the cool courage of one 
of the commanding officers is recorded by General Greene, 
who saw him calmly walking the deck while the shot struck 
all about him. Notwithstanding, their loss was considerable. 
The Lieutenant of the "Roebuck," two 'midshipmen and six 
men were killed, and eighteen were wounded on that vessel 
alone. Among then! was a 'midshipman named Skinner, 
who lost his arm, and who was described as "a fine Boy and 
" behaved well." Their upper works suffered severely. Sail- 
ing fast, however, they passed the zone of fire, the last ship 
signalling the others as she passed the obstruction that all 
was well, and then they found ahead of them the little craft 
which had so unnecessarily scurried away at their approach, 
and which now paid dearly for their mistake. The heavy 
laden and sluggish schooner was overhauled and captured, 
and the two hulks drifted ashore at Yonkers, and a well- 
directed shot sent the sloop with Bushnell's submarine craft 


and torpedo to the bottom of the river, where it may prob- 
ably lie buried to this day, thus terminating the attempt at 
under-water defense on which so much effort had been ex- 
pended and on which so much depended. 

Two of the galleys made a gallant race of it, but by 11 
a. m. came within range of the bow-chaser guns of the lead- 
ing frigate, and at noon were driven ashore by a fire of 
grape shot and were captured just above Dobb's Ferry, 
their crews, however, escaping. The squadron came to an- 
chor abreast the village, and once more the obstruction had 
failed of its purpose. 

This bold incursion naturally caused the greatest con- 
cern to the American commanders, for fears were ex- 
pressed that they might have carried trodps to be landed up 
the River, and prevent the passage of the River by Ameri- 
can vessels. The French engineer Imbert was posted off, 
with instructions to use all efforts in safeguarding the river 
at the Highlands by fortifications, and the militia were called 
out along the shores, and a company of Rangers hastily 
despatched to Fishkill, to suppress any active efforts on the 
part of the Tory sympathizers to aid the vessels in their 

The ships' log books tell the story of the passage and 
their own injuries better than has been done by those who 
derived their information from observation from the shores. 

The log of the Phoenix runs : — 

"Wed'y Oct 9 

"A. M. at y% past 7 weighed and came to sail / as did 


his M. ship Roebuck Tartar & Tryal schooner and two Ten- 
ders / 54 past 7 the Rebels began a very hot canonading 
at us from both sides of the river / about 14 past 9 we past 
as did the rest of the ships the sunken vessels &c which 
was sunk to stop our passage. / I/2 past 9 having got out 
of there reach of the guns the ceas'd firing at us but con- 
tinued at the ships astearn till they had got out of there 
reach. / we lost in passing by the above Batterys Mr. Charles 
Boen, Midshipman and three men, and 12 were wound'd 
our Mizen and Mizentopmast entirely disabl'd our Main stay 
and several of our lower and topmast shrouds shot away / 
with much of the running riging / the sails greatly 
torn with the shot / one side Booms entirely destroy'd being 
the spare topmast 2 fishes and several spars / the Boats 
much shattered / we received 24 shot in our Hull." 

The Master's "Remarks &c on Board His Majesty's 
Ship Tartar," confirm the effects of the American fire: 

"Mod. and cloudy wr. / at 7 a. m. weighed and came to 
sail in Co. with his Majesty's ships Phoenix Roebuck Tryal 
Schooner and two Tenders at 8 do. Five batterys on the 
York and two on the Jersey shore began to Fire on us / like- 
wise hove a, number of shots / with a continual fireing till 
14 past 9 / after Hulling us several times wounded our 
masts and cutting a great deal of the Riging and sails / a 
Shott went thro the Mizen Mast and afterwards killed 
a Midshipman, the splinters of the Masts wounded the 
Capt. lieu.t of Marines & Pilot / after passing the Batterys 
the enemy began to Fire small Arms from the Woods which 


they continued several Miles up the River / also gave chace 
to the enemy's Galleys / at 11 drove on shore several of their 
merchm'n and the Independence Galley / at Noon drove on 
shore the Crane Galley and continued chace." 

The marksmanship of General Knox's artillerists ap- 
pears to have been as good in its way as that of the Ameri- 
can soldiers and sailors of the present time. 

On October 11th, the American Commander-in-Chief's 
despatch sloop was sent on a hazardous cruise up the river 
to reconnoitre the movements of the British squadron, and 
on her return she fell a victim to the gunnery of the en- 
thusiastic artillerymen on the Mount, who, mistaking her 
on her approach, fired a 12-pounder at her, with so unerring 
an aim as to kill three of her crew and wound her captain. 

Now work was redoubled on the River defence, under 
the urgent orders of Washington. Men were sent off to 
secure the two derelicts at Yonkers, and the two new ships 
and the brig, which lay in Spuyten Duyvil Creek, were 
hastily ballasted by men of Heath's division at the King's 
Bridge. They were not, however, destined to be sunk in 
this manner. The hopelessness of the task began to be ap- 
parent. They were turned over on the 12th October, to 
Captain Cook, who receipted for them and their rigging, 
&c., as they lay in the creek, but their sinking was post- 
poned indefinitely. It began to be apparent that the whole 
position of Fort Washington was likely to become un- 

The expedition of the squadron was evidently but the 


first step in a very wide and deeply planned manoeuvre on 
the part of the British commander to entrap the entire 
American forces; a plan which was promptly recognized 
by Washington. It was a well-conceived general movement, 
having the same set object as the attempt which culminated 
on September 15th, to entrap the American army without 
a set battle. Sir William Howe's plan was to land on one 
side or the other of Westchester County, and keep the 
American army occupied in guessing which was to be the 
side decided on, while occupying their attention with at- 
tacks on the southern lines of the American defences by 
the brigades on the Harlem side, aided by vessels of the 
fleet on the North and East rivers. 

The information as to local conditions up River gained 
by Captain Parker of the "Phoenix," during the stay of the 
squadron in the Hudson the previous summer, doubtless led 
to the plan to push vessels up to corresponding points on 
both coasts of the county, and to throw troops across 
country between them, and then on set dates to start attacks 
on the southern lines, in order to keep the Americans occu- 
pied while the net was drawn around them. The plan was 
deliberately developed by the advance of these and other 

On October 3rd, Colonel Chester wrote to James Webb, 
dating his letter from the Manor of Fordham, "Whilst you 
" was here there was a frigate opposite the Wido Morris' 
" House." "Since that there has another come through and 
" anchored just above Hell Gate opposite Harlem Church 


" almost. Another has moved up East of Morrisania a mile 
" or two, near Frog's (Throgg's) point." This was the 
"Carrysfort" frigate, which was really engaged in taking 
soundings so as to decide upon the best point for landing 
in Westchester. 

These vessels being at their eastern stations, the next 
move was the forcing of the squadron through the Hudson 
river barrier as far as Dobb's Ferry, which was done three 
days later, thus affording time for receipt of news of their 
success, ere the British troops were embarked for Throg's 

An ample time was set for the operation of spreading 
troops across Westchester County, the difficulties of which 
were anticipated, and also for bringing up artillery, so 
that the grand advance on the enclosed American forces 
should be a complete success. 

That the trap so elaborately set, only closed finally upon 
the garrison left at Fort Washington to hold the Mount, 
was a result due to the pre-vision and promptitude of 

An autumnal fog shrouded the waters of the Bast River, 
when, on October 12th, a force of four thousand men was 
loaded into the indispensable flat boats, and started up the 
East River towards Westchester. Under the cover of the 
friendly mist, these boats passed, unobserved, through the 
troubled waters of Hell Gate, and passing the quiet shores 
of the Bronx, landed their passengers in safety on Throg's 
Neck. The position selected was disadvantageous, for 


egress was promptly barred along the narrow causeway by 
American troops hastily assembled. 

The landing disclosed the purpose of the prior prepara- 
tions, and was met by advancing forces to guard the eastern 
landing places and by preparations to withdraw the Ameri- 
can army from Washington Heights. 

It became clear that the main attack would be made 
from the East, and that the incursion on the Hudson side 
was perhaps only a feint and at best but a subsidiary fea;- 
ture. The bold front put up by the Americans on the cause- 
way at Throg's Neck deprived the British commander of 
the advantage of surprise, and five days were lost ere the 
mistake was corrected by the re-shipment of the four thou- 
sand men and their debarkation at Pell's Point. Marching 
parallel to each other the British and American forces made 
their way through the county, the latter reaching White 
Plains once again ahead of their foes, and intrenching them- 
selves in a position with their backs to the inaccessible 
heights of Northcastle. 

Meantime, the force left to guard the Heights of Upper 
Manhattan, under the charge of Colonel Robert Magaw, 
comprising about three thousand men, confronted the bri- 
gades still holding the British lines from Bloomingdale to 
the East River, and faced a formidable risk of attack in 
force, which soon followed. 

Early on the morning of Sunday, the 27th of October, 
probably a date set for the purpose of specially engaging 
the forces of the patriots at the south, while the grand at- 


tack should be made on the north, an assault in force com- 
menced by the appearance of two frigates in the Hudson, 
probably the "Renown" and the "Repulse," which deliber- 
ately anchored as high up as "Fort No. One," or abreast 
of the first line of defences drawn across Washington 
Heights at the line of 147th Street, while Earl Percy's bri- 
gade made its appearance on the plain of Harlem, and, 
driving in the American outposts, advanced on the rocky 
heights, preceded by a heavy fire from the field artillery and 
mortars. Whether intended as a feint in force, or as a posi- 
tive attempt to dislodge the Americans, the engagement was 
certainly more than a reconnoissance, as it was "continued 
" almost all day without intermission." Colonel Robert 
Magaw, who had been, as commandant of the post, specially 
charged by Washington to defend the place to the last ex- 
tremity, boldly and well fulfilled the trust reposed in him, 
so "happily disposing of his forces," as to inflict serious 
losses on the enemy's force without any of moment to 
his own. 

General Greene came over from Fort Lee, but left the 
control to the energetic post commander, who promptly set 
his men to drag down an 18-pounder gun from the fort, 
and brought it into position on the Heights near 147th 
Street, to play with effect on the war-vessels, which were 
at the same time harassed by the fire of two guns of equal 
calibre on the Jersey heights above the Burdetts ferry 
landing, now Fort Lee. Making a special target of one of 
the men-of-war, probably the "Repulse," upwards of sixty 


rounds were fired at her, using double shotted charges, by 
which she was hulled twenty-six times. Both vessels found 
themselves in distress. Instead of effecting a diversion, 
as they had been expected to do, on the flank of the defence, 
they were themselves caught between two lines of fire, and 
had the tide run flood a half hour longer, in all probability 
one would have been sunk. It was certainly no fault of the 
American force that she escaped. Slipping her cable and 
towed by two of her boats, they endeavored to work her 
out of the zone of fire, but could make little headway, and 
the vessel was on the point of drifting ashore below the 
guns of the Americans, when the tide turned and two more 
barges, manned by men of her consort, made fast to her 
and got sufficient way on her to move her beyond the danger 
line. The American artillerymen particularly distinguished 
themselves, not only in this part of the affair, but in reply- 
ing to the artillery attack of the land force, earning from 
Greene the encomium, "Our artillery behaved incomparably 
'well.' " The attack was defeated, and though a renewal 
was expected in the morning, none was made. 

This interesting engagement has received little notice 
from historians, yet was, in point of fact, an excellent exhi- 
bition of American determination, and a military affair of 
considerably larger extent than the "Battle of Harlem 
Heights," on September 16th, preceding, involving also a 
not inconspicuous marine engagement. 

The story of the Master of the "Pearl" is the only one 
that remains in the British marine records : — 


"At 6 weigh'd and worked up the River in Company wt 
the Repulse / At % past 7 anchor'd w'th Bt Br off the 
Rebels Breastwork / they firing at us from both sides which 
we ret'd / they Cutt some of our Rigging & Sails &c. / at 
11 weigh'd & run down into our old berth / heard a number 
of Great Guns & Small Arms fired from our Army." 

On the 31st of October, some vessels again moved up 
the River, but only to a point parallel with the British lines 
at Bloomingdale, coincidentally with the appearance of the 
Hessian advance line on the Fordham hills above the King's 
Bridge. The final chapter in the stubborn defence of New 
York was now to open, and with a new and fatal act of 
treachery to the patriotic cause. 

Under the cover of night, on November 3rd, the young 
Adjutant of the garrison of Fort Washington made his way 
down from the rocky heights, and entered Harlem, where 
he delivered to Earl Percy a plan of the fastness and of its 
entire defences, and disclosed the slender force which 
guarded its long line of rugged blufifs. 

On the night of the 5th of November, the last move 
of the arrangements for the Westchester campaign took 
place, when the 20-gun frigate "Pearl," Captain Wilkinson 
commander, with two victualling vessels with supplies for 
the King's troops then at Dobbs' Ferry, forced their way in 
the darkness through the ineffective obstructions at Jeff- 
rey's Hook, and though apparently "prodigiously shattered 
" from the fire of our cannon," joined their consorts beyond 
the Tappan Zee, with the reported loss of "A Few Men 


'killed and wounded.' " The actual circumstances are bet- 
ter told by the Master of the "Pearl." 

" Wed. Nov 6 

"At 3 weigh'd & came to Sail with the Joseph & British 
Queen in Comp'y / at 1/2 past the Rebels op'd their Battrys 
on us from both sides / at 5 running throw the Shivadefruse 
they fir'd cannister grape & musketry at us / we returned 
Round grape & musketry / at i/^ past sent all our Boats 
to assist the Joseph / found Wm Brown Seaman killed & 
seven woiinded / we received a number of shot in the Hull, 
several between wind & water / found the ship to make at 
the rate of 5 ms pr hour / had the Majer part of our Run- 
ning Riggins & great part of our Lower Cutt to pieces / the 
sails much torn the Mizen & Mizzentopmast shatt'd / the 
Boats likewise damag'd / at 6 anch'd 1/2 mile above Kings- 

On the other hand, the ever alert Tupper was at the 
same time preparing to run the gauntlet of the now aug- 
mented squadron, with a cargo of flour for the garrison of 
Fort Washington, loaded on "pettiaugers." He was dis- 
covered, and a strong force put out from the frigates in 
" several barges, two tenders and a row-galley," and at- 
tacked them. "Our people run the pettiaugers ashore and 
" landed and defended them. The enemy attempted to land 
" several times, but were repulsed. The fire lasted about 
" an hour and a half, and the enemy moved off. We lost one 
" man mortally wounded." 

Foiled in his main object, Howe broke camp on Novem- 


ber 5, and completed the junction with the squadron, which 
lay during the White Plains engagement a little north of 
Tarrytown. His great net now closed only on the garrison 
of Fort Washington, and in default of the larger game, he 
retired towards Harlem, to decide or develop his next 

Seizing the evacuated heights which dominated the Har- 
lem from Riverdale to Morrisania, he disposed his own and 
the Hessian forces in a long semi-circle, extending through 
Harlem to Bloomingdale, the northerly and southerly ex- 
tremities of his position resting on the Hudson, and there 
terminating, each with the support of a naval force in the 
river. But even the slender stream which now divided his 
main army from Fort Washington, presented an obstacle 
which required the assistance of the marine to overcome. 
It was necessary to have the flat boats for the purpose of 
ferrying troops over the Harlem, and they were, therefore, 
brought back from the Sound by sailors of the fleet. The 
ships of war and the transports which had conveyed the 
Second Hessian Division to Westchester proceeded to make 
their way back from the Sound to the East River, and the 
boats were brought round to Bloomingdale. Meanwhile, 
Knyphausen's division of Hessian troops had pushed their 
advance guard across the ruins of the King's Bridge on to 
Marble Hill, and were building advanced earthworks on the 
rocky summit of Isham Park in the Dyckman vale. 

The new trap was set, only awaiting the flat boats in 


the Harlem, and Fort Washington and its barrier to the 
river was practically doomed. 

"In the late passage of the three vessels," — the "Pearl" 
and her convoy — "up the North River," wrote Washington, 
sadly, from White Plains, "is so plain a proof of the ineffi- 
cacy of all the obstructions we have thrown into it, that I 
cannot but think it will fully justify a change in the dispo- 
sitions which have been made." 

Jeffrey's Hook, or Ft. Washington Point, with Remains of tlie Lunette or One-Gu 

Redoubt, of 1776. 

The great attempt had failed, not from lack of energy 
or effort, but from its inherent difficulties, and the great 


natural obstacle of the mighty flood, which they had so 
boldly sought to bridle. The barrier being worthless, it 
was no longer worth while to risk much to defend it. The 
decision to withdraw the garrison was postponed by the 
preponderance of the opinion of subordinate officers based 
on the enthusiasm of the garrison and the assumption that 
no means of crossing the Harlem was in Howe's hands. 
But the one means of rescuing the garrison in case of need 
was lacking. No boats were provided to enable them to 
retreat from the island on which they were cooped up. 

The "Pearl" and her convoy, their cargoes not having 
been required at Dobb's Ferry, fell down the river to a point 
near Spuyten Duyvil, where the stores would be available 
for the Hessian division on the north banks of the creek, 
and where the frigate could prevent the succor of the garri- 
son by other vessels or boats. 

The troops now required only the means of ferriage to 
be ready for the attack on Fort Washington, which should, 
in Howe's plan, clear the Island of Rebels, and thus redress 
his reputation, for the failure of his encircling manoeuvres 
at Brooklyn and Westchester. The problem of getting their 
open boats past forts, from which sailing war vessels had 
severely suffered, was a difficult one. It was solved by the 
hardihood of Captain Wilkinson of the "Pearl," who, sec- 
onded by Captain Molly of the Royal Navy, undertook to 
drift the flat boats past the sentinels on the heights, and 
to take their chances of the fire of the batteries at the 
Hook, and at Fort Lee, and work them round the Spuyten 


Duyvil Creek under the frail protection of the covering 
shadows of a dark November night. 

Seamen from other ships in the East River also brought 
at night through the Harlem river, some small boats which 
were utilized to great effect in the eventful assault, bearing 
the Highland or 42nd foot regiment to that unexpected 
attack on the weakest portion of the defence, which be- 
came practically the turning point of the assault and cap- 
ture of Mount Washington. 

The story of the combined British and Hessian assault of 
November 16th, resulting in the surrender of the fort, can- 
not here be given. It is a vivid story of a hopeless defence 
against overwhelming force guided by treacherous informa- 
tion. The marine was represented by the frigate "Pearl," 
which took a prominent part in the events of the day, but it 
is rather remarkable that the other warships up the river 
were not brought into action. The "Pearl," to cover the 
aidvance of the Hessian division from Kingsbridge tacked 
to-and-fro off Tubby Hook, now known as Inwood. Her 
attentions were marked, and the missiles she threw have 
been found as far east as Fort George, where she probably 
somewhat helped the attacking force under Lord Cornwallis 
and Brigadier-General Matthews by planting shell and bar- 
shot on the rear of the American defending force of Penn- 
sylvanian volunteers. On the Hudson River side, where the 
repeated charges of the Hessians were thrice repulsed by the 
Maryland and Virginia riflemen, she was at short range, and 
no doubt contributed not a little to the final success of 


Kohler's grenadiers, who, led by Colonel Rahl, worked their 
way around to the west side of what is now Fort Tryon, and 
eventually got in between the fort and the river, cutting oil 
the only line of retreat of the garrison, and compelled the 
abandonment of their defences. 

But the vessel did not come off scot free as may be seen 
from the Master's and Captain's records : 

"16th A. M.," the Master wrote, "at one mann'd the fiat 
Boats/at 7 weigh'd & ran down under Fort Washington/at 
% past anchor'd wt the Sd Br in 7 fm/muddy Bottom/Veer'd 
to % a Cable/hearing our Army in Action began Scouring 
the woods/at 11 the army pass'd us/at V^ past weigh'd & 
run up off Kingsbridge Creek wt the Bt Br in 7 fathom & 
Veer'd to J^ of a Cable/at Noon heard a smart fire of Great 
Guns & Musketry/the people repairing the Rigging &c." 

The Captain's log adds that the vessel "received many 
"shot in our Hull, and the Rigging much damaged." 

From the number of bar-shot found through the Heights, 
which missiles, designed for the destruction of rigging and 
sails, nevertheless appear to have been used in this or other 
attacks, it seems probable that this frigate may have used 
up all her ordinary shot and shell. The sizes, however, vary 
so much that they indicate use on other occasions. A speci- 
men found at 181st Street and Fort Washington Avenue, 
within the lines of the fort, is 51/2 inches in diameter. One 
of 16 lbs. weight was found on Fort George hill, which still 
had some of the spikes and nails with which they were filled, 
adhering, others are as large as a 32-pound shot over two 


feet in length and weigh 27 lbs. An unusual specimen is a 
small bore bar-shot, the heads forged by hand, found on the 
Harlem side, which may have been made by the Americans 
as an attempt to reply in kind to these terrible missiles of 
the fleet. Solid shot and shrapnel shell of all sizes up to 
fifty pounds in weight have been found all along the line of 
the rugged Heights, and nearly every old family has had 
some specimens as a treasured reminder of the last days of 
the defence of the City of New York. 

The defence was crumpled up from all sides, the men 
crowded back to the Fort and the Hessian general sent in a 
demand for surrender. When too late, the Commander re- 
ceived a message from Washington that, if he could hold 
out till nightfall, an attempt would be made to bring boats 
to the rescue and take off the men under cover of darkness. 
The situation was too desperate for delay, and the means of 
retreat too dubious. The messenger as he bounded down 
the rocks on his return was stabbed at by the Hessians cut- 
ting off the garrison's access to the river. With tears in his 
eyes Washington was forced to witness the lowering of the 
flag that represented the cause of freedom, and the final act 
in the drama of the defence of the City. 

The result was doubtless, inevitable, and that a defense 
could have been continued for upwards of three months, was 
the remarkable and unforeseen fact. 

With the overwhelming marine force opposed to them, 
and the almost entire absence of any means of resistance, 
it was no small testimonial to the respect which the Ameri- 


cans imposed by their efforts at resistance, that the results 
of the three months' campaign were relatively so insignifi- 

The military events on land have, by a not unnatural 
process, taken the predominating position, and have there- 
fore attracted the greatest attention in our histories and 
studies of the events of the year 1776. 

But it would seem proper that, in the light of more 
modern appreciation of the effects of predominance on the 
ocean, due appreciation should be given to the share which 
marine events and circumstances had upon the outcome of 
the campaign, and such a study seems to lead to the conclu- 
sion that the eventual result was due rather to naval than to 
military operations. 

Out of the incidents of that eventful year, the bold and 
unwavering determination of the patriots, their forces, and 
their leaders, in the defence of the waters of New York, 
hampered by the lack of any proportionate means or mate- 
rial, in the face of the most colossal marine force which the 
sea-power of Britain had ever brought together, stands as 
one of the most striking demonstrations of American spirit 
and devotion which History affords. 




i » ji n. 

iK .i'T