By 1780 the military focus of the War for Independence had moved south to the Carolinas, and northern warfare was largely relegated to internecine community conflicts, and punitive or foraging expeditions. From its beginning the war had been one of neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, and nowhere was this more in evidence than in northern New Jersey. One reason for the Continental Army post at Paramus, and part of the British desire to eradicate it, was the so-called London Trade, whereby local "disaffected" inhabitants supplied much-needed goods to British-held New York. Continental forces in the area were intended to interdict that trade, whereas the British high command certainly wanted to keep the lines open. The March 1780 raid against Paramus and Hackensack was originally instigated by Major General William Tryon, former Royal Governor of New York, who recommended the enterprise to Lieutenant General Wilhelm von Knyphausen, then overall commander at New York in the absence of Crown commander in chief Lieutenant General Henry Clinton. Tryon's wish was to punish the rebellious inhabitants of Hackensack, a sentiment Knyphausen supported. An intelligence agent, known only as AZ, kept General Tryon informed of area defenses. On February 6th he relayed information supplied by a British soldier's wife who had just traveled through Paramus, the gist of which was, "the regiment that has laid at Paramus for some time past was relieved a few days ago by another consisting of between two and three hundred men, that they have guards at Hendrick Zabriskie's and the widow Ackerman's, on the road from Paramus Church to New Bridge, also another at a fulling mill to the eastward of the church. This being the case, they are open and exposed on every side but their front." The only immediate result of this and other reports was an inconclusive 10 February British light cavalry incursion into Hackensack (in fact, an aborted attempt to capture the American commander-in-chief at Morristown), but that town and the post at Paramus remained on the British agenda.
On Wednesday 22 March 1780, a "Cool Windy" day, a deputation of the "Magistrates, Sheriff & Officers of the Militia of the County of Bergen residing at Hackensack & its Vicinity" wrote Major Christopher Stuart, 5th Pennsylvania Regiment, commanding at Paramus, apprising him of the danger of enemy attack:
We ... find ourselves necessitated to make Application to You for a Detachment or Party from your Command, to assist in protecting us & our Neighbours ... against the Incursions & Depredations of small Parties of the Enemy & their vile Abettors the refugees.
In Order to justify this our Application, we beg Leave to Advise you that we are credibly informed that the Enemy have in Contemplation to make an Attack & Incursion on the Inhabitants of Hackensack within five Days; That the well affected Inhabitants, tho willing to risque their Persons in Defence of their Property are too few in Number for the wished for Purpose of repelling the Enemy's Parties or keeping up continual Guards & Scouts for their Security without the Assistance of some Party of Continental Troops (till some Measures can be taken by the State for Our Protection) And conceiving that the Security of your Detachment in some Measure depends on regular Scouts & Guards being kept up near the Lines. We are from Necessity & from Duty to ourselves our Neighbours & our Country constrained to solicit & request in the most pressing Terms, that if it be consistent with your Orders from His Excellency the Commander in Chief, You will immediately detach a Party of your men for the Purposes of assisting the well affected Inhabitants of this Place against the Incursions of the Parties of the Enemy.
The next day the enemy struck, confirming the well-intentioned but belated warning. Marching in two columns, Lieutenant Colonel John Howard's British Foot Guards grenadier and light infantry companies took a roundabout route to Paramus, while Lieutenant Colonel Duncan McPherson, commanding elements of seven units, the British 42nd and 43rd regiments, and German Anspach, Bayreuth, von Donop, Landgraf and Leib (also called "du Corps") Regiments, captured Hackensack, then proceeded to join Howard's force.
One of the earliest intimations the high command had of the attack was dated "8 Oclock A.M. 23rd March Acquackana[ck] Bridge," and sent by Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Hay, 10th Pennsylvania Regiment, to Major General Baron Johann De Kalb at Springfield
De Kalb also received a 10 A.M. note from 5th Connecticut Captain Abner Prior stationed at Newark, reporting, "I Have this moment heard that the Enemy was in Hackansack last night Burning & Destroing it is Said to be about Three hundred british and they was advancen to wards Paramius ..." Relaying these notes the next day to General Washington the Baron also informed him "The four Prisoners, three of which are Anspackers, I will Send to Head Q. under Escort ... The Prisoners tell me that the Party at Hackensack to which they belonged, was to return to New York after Burning Sundry Buildings, that they had neither Baggage nor Provision with them."
Seventh Pennsylvania Surgeon's Mate Gustavus Henderson (a.k.a. John Rose), with his regiment at Jockey Hollow, left this lively (and partisan) secondhand narrative of the 23 March action:
Since writing to my brother a more particular account of the late Skirmish has come to hand. A Majors command was detach'd to Paramus, the enemy sent out a party to surprize the Major but he luckily had intelligence of it. They came on however so secretly as to surprize the advanc'd Picquet consisting of a sergt. Corpl. and ten men they then proceeded on towards the Majors quarters passing by part of the Detachment without alarming them but the Major had still good intelligence & was ready to receive them when they came up. We had the honor of giving the first salute which put them into disorder they fac'd to the right about and were retreating when the party they pass'd lay in ambuscade within 10 or 15 Yards of the road & gave them a flanker [flanking fire] which settled them Helter Skelter away they ran. A Capt. [John] Marshall of the 3rd [Pennsylvania] & a Capt. [Abraham] Claypoole of the 11th Penna. Regt. pursued & kill'd & took some say forty but be that as it may four of the prisoners arriv'd at Morristown on Saturday evening & a sergt. & 10 Hessians & one British Soldier arriv'd there yesterday - so much for a Scotch Prize.
The British commanders' accounts reflect differences in perspective and conflicting claims. Major Stuart made no mention of being put to flight, and Surgeon's Mate Rose claimed the British were "put ... into disorder ... fac'd to the right about and ... Helter Skelter away they ran," a contention unsupported by Guards Lieutenant Colonel John Howard, the officer commanding the expedition, who wrote his report to Brigadier General Edward Mathew the day after the action:
Kings Bridge March 24th 1780
Sir ... the Detachment of Guards under my Command consisting of 300 Men marched to Spiken Devil Creek ready to be embarked at 7 OClock Wednesday Evening; the Boats from the Obstructions met with us at Kings Bridge, did not arrive till half past 10, which occasioned our not reaching Closter Landing till 12 OClock at Night. The Distance from thence to Peramus Church was at least 17 Miles from the Detour we were obliged to make to come in the Rear of the Enemies Pickets, and to prevent our being discovered. As it was two Hours after Day break before we could possibly arrive at Peramus, and the Surprise of the Rebel Posts could by no means be compleated, according to the Plan first adopted, I took the Liberty of ordering our Men to load, and to make an Alteration in the Numbers detach'd under Lt. Cols. Stuart and Hall, as I had then learned their principal Force was collected at Peramus Church.
I ordered Lieut. Coll. [James] Stuart [1st Foot Guards] with 50 Men to march on the Road the East Side of Saddle River, and Lieut. Coll. [Francis] Hall [3rd Foot Guards] with 60 of the Light Infantry to proceed to Hopper's House, taking with me 190 Men on the Road the West Side of Saddle River leading to their Main Body at Peramus which I heard consisted of 250 Men, have since learned from a Deserter who came in on our Retreat their Numbers at the Church were near 300. I found them drawn up behind a Stone Wall before the Church, afterwards they altered their Position with their left to a Barn part of them remaining behind the Wall, and seemed determined to wait our coming up, but on ordering our Men to form and attack, they immediately fled, and as our Soldiers had been greatly fatigued with a March of near 18 Miles after pursuing them a Mile and half and taking near 20 Prisoners, as I found nothing more cou'd be effected, I ordered the Men back to Peramus Bridge to join Lieut. Colls. Stuart and Hall who had Directions to meet us there. The former surprised a Corporal and Six Men, another Picket in a House adjoining of an Officer and 20 Men had just Time to run off leaving their Arms, 30 stand of which Lt. Coll. Stuart destroyed in the House. Lieut. Coll. Hall surprised a Picket of 9 Men, one of which got off, the Main Body at Hoppers House having received Information half an Hour before the Arrival of the Party made their Escape.
After the Detachments of the Guards had joined, I took the Road to New Bridge, and fell in with the Corps under Lt. Coll.[Duncan] McPherson. We suffered some Loss in our Retreat, which the Rebels who had collected in Force harrassed till we had passed New Bridge. Capt. [David] Anstruther of the 42nd was unfortunately wounded.
After crossing the River Hackinsack, I ordered the Bridge to be broke down to prevent the Rebels passing it; in this Service Capts. [Francis] Dundass [1st Foot Guards] and [George] Elde [2nd Foot Guards] of the Light Infantry were particularly active themselves taking up the Boards under the Enemy's Fire.
We continued our March after with little Molestation, and embarked the Detachment of Guards at Moore's Landing near Fort Lee agreeable to the Commands of His Excellency Lieut. Genl. Knyphausen.
I beg leave to mention the great Assistance I received from all the Officers under my Command, particularly Lt. Coll. McPherson, as also the spirited Behaviour of the British and German Troops. Lieut. Cranston of the Navy was like wise very active in his Department.
J. Howard Capt. & Lt. Coll.
1st Rt. Guards
The inclosed [not found] is a Return of the Killed and Wounded of the Detachment of Guards.
Serjt. Smith and the two Private Men missing were left on the Road on Account of Illness some Time before the Detachment reached Peramus.
It should be noted that Colonel Howard's force consisted of two grenadier and two light infantry companies of the Guards, plus "enough men from Kings Bridge to raise his force to three hundred..." (See endnote for British Foot Guards organization in America.)
Lieutenant General Knyphausen's 25 March general orders thanking Colonels Howard and McPherson, also recognized "Lieutenant Hatfield of the Royal Volunteer Militia" (possibly Captain Cornelius Hetfield, King's Militia Volunteers), and Navy lieutenants Cranton and Peery. Identifying the last-named officers is problematic, at best. Compiled Admiralty records show only one Lieutenant named Cranston serving in 1780, Lieutenant James, Lord Cranstoun, who was at Gibraltar at that time. Lord Cranstoun's younger brother, Midshipman Charles Cranstoun, was serving as an acting lieutenant when he was captured in 1776 and imprisoned in Rhode Island; however, his whereabouts following his February 1777 exchange is unknown. No Lieutenant Cranston (or similar name) was found on the Admiralty sea pay list of officers serving on ships on the North American station in March 1780. Lieutenant Peery could have been one of several Naval officers with the surname Parry, Peevey, or Peers.
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The Naval officers' roles merit further discussion. Cranston, as overall commander, was likely a senior lieutenant, while the individual boat's officers were junior lieutenants, midshipmen, or master's mates. Furthermore, the naval officers in charge of the flatboat flotillas were responsible for a very difficult undertaking, coordinating and transporting a substantial body of troops across a river at night. Given the dual river crossings, as senior officer Cranston probably took personal charge of Lieutenant Colonel Howard's boats, given the difficult task of having to travel "up the North River to Philipse's house," and from there ferry the Guards to the New Jersey side. Lieutenant Peery likely commanded Colonel McPherson's flotilla, which, as related by Hessian Adjutant General Major Carl Leopold Baurmeister, from New York "crossed over to Jersey at Weehawken, situated almost straight across the river from the northern part of the city," but something, perhaps the tide, caused the operation to go awry, and "MacPherson ... met with considerable interference in crossing the North River."
While given only a passing mention in officers' reports, river crossings were difficult in the best of conditions. The nature of the flatboats themselves, barely seaworthy, difficult to row and maneuver, and detested by Royal Navy personnel, was at the root of the trouble. Darkness added to the difficulty, and, depending on tidal conditions, one or both crossings may have had to contend with turbulence caused by freshwater currents meeting an incoming saltwater tide. A single flatboat was propelled with twenty oars and crewed by twenty-five men (probably apportioned as follows: one boat commander, one coxswain, one quartermaster's mate, and twenty-two able seamen); for various reasons, the craft were often loaded only to fifty or seventy percent of their passenger capacity. Six such vessels would have carried one hundred and fifty crewmen, plus one hundred and fifty to two hundred soldiers, and approximately ten to twelve flatboats were needed for each river crossing made that night. Thus, as many as twenty-four watercraft may have been used in the operation.
Lieutenant Colonel Duncan McPherson, 42nd Regiment, provided his perspective of events to Lieutenant General Knyphausen:
... the Detachment of 300 Men under my Command embarked on board the Boats at the Hay Wharf by 7 o'Clock of the Evening of the 22nd Instant, and landed at Weyhake [Weehawken] a little before Ten; from thence we marched, and got to the little Ferry on Hackensack River by 12 o'Clock, over which the Detachment was transported in a small Whale Boat and one Canoe by three o'Clock in the Morning; here I made the Disposition for surprising Hackensack, to effectuate which I ordered a Subaltern and 25 Men of the 43rd Regiment to push on briskly until they got to the End of the Town, next to Newbridge, there to halt, and intercept every Person who might attempt to make their Escape; the remaining Part of the Detachment of the 43rd Regiment, with the 50 Anspachs, under the Command of Captain [William] Thorne of the 43rd I ordered to follow and to attack every House that should be pointed out to them by the [Loyalist] Guides and Refugees, and to apprehend every Man they found and bring them to Sobrisky's Mill, there to remain until the Detachment returned from Paramus, and I have the Pleasure to inform your Excellency, that the Plan had the desired Effect, the Militia and Inhabitants being catched in their Beds.
At half an Hour after 5 oClock I marched with the Detachment from Hackensack, leaving Capt. Thorne with One hundred Men there, for the Purpose I have mentioned, and proceeded to Sobrisky's Mills, where I arrived at a quarter of an hour after 6 oClock, from thence I continued marching towards Paramus, without any Opposition. And about a quarter of an hour after 7o'Clock in the Morning, we heard a scattering Fire in our Front, on this we pushed and got with[in] a quarter of a Mile of Paramus Church, when we observed the Enemy run, and Colonel Howard with the Guards in pursuit of them. Saddles River prevented my intercepting the Fugitives; here 13 Deserters joined us, and here I halted and sent to Colonel Howard for Orders, who sent me Word, that he with his Detachment would join us immediately, which he accordingly did. What happened on our Return while Colonel Howard commanded, your Excellency will be informed of by him. We parted from the Guards opposite to Fort Lee and arrived at Weyhake about Sunset, where we embarked on board the Flat-Boats, and landed at the Hay Wharf 'twixt Seven & Eight o'Clock in the Evening of the 23rd Instant, after a Circuit of above forty Miles. Sixty four Prisoners were brought to this City. ...
It is with much Satisfaction I inform your Excellency, that the Officers and Men, British and Foreigners, on this very fatiguing Service, behaved with the greatest Regularity and Spirit.
Johann Dohla, a private in the Bayreuth Regiment (sometimes referred to as the 2nd Anspach, also known as the Seybothen Regiment, after its commander), wrote of his experience with McPherson's force. Private Dohla matter-of-factly describes the destruction and looting in occupied Hackensack:
22 March. During the evening, after tattoo, I went with a strong command. It was drawn from all the regiments which lay here in New York and consisted of four hundred men under the command of the Scottish Major Kleevlington[?] and Captain Tannenberg of the Hessians. We were carried in boats across the North River to the province of New Jersey. Then we marched almost the entire night, at the quickest pace and as silently as possible, mostly through forests. Toward three o'clock in the morning we reached Hackensack, a large and beautiful settlement consisting of about two hundred houses. This village was attacked and all houses were immediately broken into and everything ruined; doors, windows, boxes, and chests, everything lumped together and plundered. All the males were taken prisoners, and the townhall and some other splendid buildings were set on fire. We took considerable booty, money, silver pocket watches, silver plate and spoons, as well as furniture, good clothing, fine English linen, good silk stockings, gloves, other materials. This village of Hackensack lies sixteen English miles from New York and has rich inhabitants.
Dohla continued on with Colonel McPherson's main force to Paramus, which the German private calls "Pollingtown." Private Dohla also misidentified the officer leading the northern column as Colonel Andreas Emmerich, whereas the commander was actually Lieutenant Colonel Howard of the Guards.
23 March. At daybreak we again marched out of Hackensack. We wished to proceed two miles further to Pollingtown [Paramus], a small city where we hoped to capture a rebel command of two hundred men. However, we were betrayed by spies and the rebels came against us from all sides, we had to begin the return march. They would have taken us all prisoners, because they were five or six times stronger than we were, if Colonel [Howard] ... of the English had not joined us with four hundred light infantry and jaegers. On the previous day they had been transferred across the North River beyond Kingsbridge and were to have supported us during the attack on Pollingtown. [Colonel Howard] covered our flank as soon as he had joined us, and we slowly pulled back under a steady fire, which last[ed] more than six hours. During this time we threw away or discarded most of our furniture booty. At eight o'clock in the evening we again arrived at New York, after the enemy had followed us to the water of the North River. From this expedition we had dead three Scots, eleven English and Hessians; and Private Bar, of our regiment, made prisoner.
The Bayreuth private closes with an account of his personal plunder, all of which he was forced to discard by the roadside. If every man jettisoned a similar load, the highway must have been a demoralizing sight.
On this day my life was exposed to many hundreds of bullets. My booty, which I had been fortunate enough to retain, consisted of two silver pocket watches, three silver buckles, one pair of women's white cotton stockings, one pair of men's summer stockings, two men's and four women's shirts of fine English linen, two fine tablecloths, one silver food and tea spoon, five Spanish dollars and six York shillings in money, eleven complete mattress covers of fine linen, and more than two dozen pieces of silk fabric, as well as six silver plates and one silver drinking cup, all tied together in a pack which, because of the hasty march, I had to throw away.
Adjutant General Baurmeister wrote this account to Hessian Lord High Chancellor Baron von Jungkenn, describing some of the difficulties in coordinating the two columns, and the effect of the quickly mobilized Continentals and militia:
In order to surprise an enemy post of three hundred men at Paramus church beyond Hackensack in Jersey, Lieutenant Colonel Howard took four flank companies [grenadiers and light infantry] of British Guards and enough men from Kings Bridge to raise his force to three hundred, went up the North River to Philipse's house on flatboats, and crossed over to Jersey in the night of 22nd-23rd. At the same time, Lieutenant Colonel MacPherson of the local garrison departed with three hundred men and crossed over to Jersey at Weehawken, situated almost straight across the river from the northern part of the city. It was agreed that the two detachments should approach Paramus at the same time. But Lieutenant Colonel Howard came upon the enemy post earlier than did Lieutenant Colonel MacPherson, for the latter met with considerable interference in crossing the North River and also encountered several small rebel pickets on his march through Hackensack.
The rebels in the meantime had taken a position in the graveyard, and their commander, Major [Christopher] Stuart [5th Pennsylvania Regiment], made a valiant defense. Finally, however, he was compelled to fall back, and on his retreat he encountered Lieutenant Colonel MacPherson's detachment. The heavy firing alarmed a great part of Jersey, and enemy troops approached from all sides in such numbers that our detachments could not hope for further success. They therefore decided to retreat over New Bridge. This gave the enemy so much courage that they followed close upon the heels of the detachments and even made some prisoners. Aside from - wounded, among them two officers of the British Guards, who together with sixty-five prisoners and fourteen deserters, came in by way of Powles Hook, we had nine killed and eighteen missing.
To Lord Amherst, Lieutenant General James Robertson noted, "General Knyphausen is much liked, gives great Application, and forms every Day Projects to protect our Friends and annoy the Enemy," then went on to relate, "A Body of them lay at Paramis and Hackinsack, - He detached a Party of three hundred of them from this and another from Kingsbridge. A Boat was sent from hence to carry the first over Second River. A delay about Boats [this may refer to the bottleneck caused by McPherson's detachment's Hackensack River crossing using only "a small Whale Boat and one Canoe," in addition to the passage over the Hudson River] broke the concerted Meeting of the two Parties and gave an Opportunity to many of the Rebels to escape. Our People returned after a March of thirty nine Miles with Sixty four Prisoners."
The raid and several participating officers were recognized in general orders, "Head Quarters New York 25 March 1780":
His Excellency Lieutenant General von Knyphausen requests that his approbation be made known in published orders to Lieutenant Colonel Howard of the Guards, Lieutenant Colonel McPherson of the 42nd Regiment, and the officers and men under their command for the good conduct on the morning of the 23rd of this month during the fatiguing expedition to Paramus and Hackensack and, although it was not as successful as might be wished, due to unavoidable circumstances, it still provided honor to the troops. His Excellency is appreciative of the dedication to duty of Lieutenants Cranton and Peery of the Navy who commanded the division of flatboats, and also of Lieutenant Hatfield of the Royal Volunteer Militia for his bravery during this opportunity
The event was covered in a number of newspaper accounts, some of which offer new details. The 27 March 1780 New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury's article was written with a Loyalist bent:
NEW-YORK, March 24.
On Wednesday evening a detachment of the Royal Army, under the command of Col. Howard, crossed from this city to the Jersies, and proceeded to Hackensack, where a number of continental troops were assembled to protect sundry new fangled Justices of the Peace, who had assembled there to devise means to harrass and distress such of their neighbours as were thought to be disaffected to the cause of rebellion. It was not until the troops were close by them that they were apprised of their danger, when they fled with the greatest precipitation, after animating the rebel soldiers to stand their ground, that their retreat might be the more secure. The poor wretches did so for a little time, but after a few being killed, they broke and made the best of their way home; however, several of them were made prisoners, and brought to town last night. Our loss was, one killed and another wounded.
The 3 April issue of that paper added that McPherson's force "composed of the British and German troops in garrison" at New York was to act in conjunction with Howard's Guards
landed at Kloster several miles above Fort Lee ... the former were to penetrate into the country to the northward of Hopper's town, and destined to attack the rear of the rebel cantonments at that place; the latter taking their route by the little ferry upon Hackinsack, where boats was sent to transport them across, were to have surprised the town of Hackensack, in which a company of Militia were quartered and pushing forwards, to have fallen upon the front of the Paramus cantonments; these services were not effected owing to unavoidable delays, till several hours later than was intended. Lieut. Col. Howard arrived near Hopper's town two hours after day-break in the morning of the 23rd, and continuing his march, surprised two pickets, and pressed one of their cantonments so closely as to oblige the officer and his command to leave their arms behind them, which to the amount of thirty stand were destroyed; their main body, consisting of between two and three hundred men, made a shew of defence at the church, but finding they would be instantly attacked, they retired with precipitation, were pursued for above a mile, and several prisoners taken. Lieutenant-Colonel Macpherson's detachment at this time on its march through the cantonments, which were found abandoned, made its appearance upon the road near the church, having taken a few prisoners ... In the course of the march a Clergyman with another inoffensive inhabitant (taken prisoners by mistake) were dismissed, and reported to have been accidently shot by the Rebels.
Sixty-four prisoners were brought from Jersey, of those, twenty-four belonged to the continental troops, and a captain and twenty-three were militia men: Thirteen deserters also, who were a part of the Paramus command, came off with their arms. The loss of the Rebels in killed and wounded cannot be ascertained.
An American account noted that the "militia collected fast, attacked them furiously, and several of our prisoners were relieved," identifying the wounded civilian as "Mr. Periam, tutor of the academy at Paramus ... taken prisoner; but, being wounded by our people in the enemy's retreat, he was left behind; he is in a likely way to recover, though badly wounded in the shoulder." The clergyman was Loyalist Warmoldus Kuypers, who, according to his son, "was obliged to march above twenty miles (in the wintry season) tho' excessive weak and in a bad state of health, and having his home plundered and himself beat and ill treated [until] (upon conviction of error) he was permitted to return home to his to a distressed family." Despite events, "he still persevered in his loyalty and remained with his congregation in hopes of doing good."
Other pro-independence articles stress the depredations at Hackensack, and losses among local inhabitants. The New-York Packet, and the American Advertiser (30 March) stated that
a party of British and foreign troops from New York, supposed about four hundred, advanced as far as Paramus, and, in their usual manner, plundered several houses ... We have good information that the enemy had three or four waggons full of killed and wounded; their retreat was so precipitate, that when any of their dead and wounded fell off the wagon, they did not tarry to take them up. The Hackensack militia behaved with spirit, and sustained but little loss. The enemy burnt, in this excursion, the courthouse in Hackensack, and one or two dwelling houses; they plundered mr. Campbell, tavernkeeper, of a large sum of Continental, hard money, &c.
The New Jersey Journal's rather florid account claimed that
a party of the enemy ... penetrated into the country as far as Paramus. In their route, cruelty and devastation, the characteristic of the tyrant's troops, marked their steps. At Hackensack they burnt the court-house and two dwelling-houses, and almost tore the house of Mr. Campbell, inn-keeper, to pieces, after plundering him of a very considerable sum of specie and continental money. In short, they plundered indiscriminately both whig and tory. Their cruelty and brutality to women was unparalleled; some they inhumanely choaked to make them tell where their money was; and one, we hear, was so unfortunate as to have her arm broke by them. The militia of the county turned out spiritedly, and forming a junction with a few continental troops that lay at Paramus, pushed them, on their retreat, very hard, took a few prisoners, and killed and wounded several, whom they carried off in waggons. - Remember, apostate Britons! That your towns, during the last summer, have been in the power of our fleets; and that, perhaps, may be the case the ensuing one, when taught by your example, we may retaliate ten fold.
The 29 March New Jersey Gazette account detailed the destruction and mentioned civilian casualties:
Extract of a letter from Hackinsack, dated March 24.
Yesterday morning at 4 o'clock, a detachment of the enemy of about 200 men, commanded by Lt. Col. M'Pherson, of the 42nd regt. made a descent upon this place by way of the Little Ferry. Soon after they entered the town they burnt the Court-house, and also Messrs. Boyd's and Chapple's dwelling houses, and then proceeded to Paramus, with intention to surprize the detachment of continental troops under the command of Major Stuart. At that place the enemy were joined by another party of equal force, which landed at Closter and marched by Weirmiss, and would probably have effected their purpose had not Major Stuart received information of their approach. In their rout they plundered and abused the inhabitants indiscriminately, in a most pitiable manner; and carried off between 20 and 30 of the inhabitants prisoners. Capt. Outwater of our militia, and Hendrick Van Geison, were slightly wounded, but not taken off. In this excursion the enemy had a number killed and wounded, and near 20 of them were made prisoners by our troops, who behaved exceedingly well; and hung upon their rear as they retreated from Paramus to Fort Lee, where they embarked.
The Loyalist New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury listed sixty-two men carried off from Hackensack and Paramus, including several identified as regular or militia soldiers, and five blacks, viz.,
New-York, March 27.
The following is a List of the Prisoners brought to this City last Thursday Night by the Parties that were lately at Paramus and Hackinsack, in New-Jersey ...
John Armstrong, David Baldwin, Gillion Barthoff, John Bogart, John Bond, William Bradshaw, John Brady, Jacobus Brower, William Brower, William Browning, Peter Byall, Ezekiel Burrell, John Clancey, John Coalby, David Colden, Charles Corper, Christian Demarest, John Demarest, Isaac Denton, Jonathan Doramus, Thomas Dorman, John Durjee, Morris Earl [Bergen militia], George Field, Silas Frost, William Hammell, William Hammell, Jr., Thomas Harris, Edward Harvey [2nd Rhode Island Regiment], Captain Abraham Herring, Rowland Hill, Charles Hugh, James Kent [Bergen militia], John Kiney, Patrick Kirkin, Andrew Lord [5th Maryland Regiment], Benjamin Marsh, James M'Donald, Benjamin Old, Christian O'Neil, William Provost, John Romayn, Patrick Scentling, Thomas Scotland, Charles Simmons, Ebenezer Spinnage, William Stewart, Abraham Storms, James Teny, John Van Antwerp, John Van Gissen, G. Van Wagenen, Henry Van Winkle, Isaac Varvalen [Vervalen], John Williams, Joseph Williams, Peter Zabriskie; "Will, Jack, John, Venter, and Hector (Negroes).
Continental commander Major Stuart reported troop casualties as follows:
Return of the wounded & missing of Continental Troops [23 March 1780.]
Wounded — 1 Sub[altern], 2 R[ank] & file.
Missing — 1 Serjt., 1 D[rum] & Fife, 33 R & file.
Return of the Enemy kill'd wounded & made Prisoners.
Kill'd — 1 R[ank] & file found.
Wounded — The Number uncertain, two Waggon loads.
Prisoners — 1 Drum, 8 R & file exclusive of 6 taken by the Militia and sent to Newark.
Exaggerating casualties, Adjutant Baurmeister informed the Hessian Lord High Chancellor, "Aside from - wounded, among them two officers of the British Foot Guards, who together with sixty-five prisoners and fourteen deserters, came in by way of Powles Hook, we had nine killed and eighteen missing."27 British Deputy Adjutant General Frederick MacKenzie gave total British and German losses as "1 Rank & File Killed; 1 Officer, 17 Rank & File Wounded; 1 Drummer, 12 Rank & File Missing," noted "Capt. [David] Anstruther 42nd Regt. Wounded," and provided a detailed accounting:
"Return of the Killed, Wounded & Missing, at the attack of the Rebel Troops at Paramus, in Jersey the 23rd March 1780."
Regiment du Corps (Leib Regiment): 2 Rank & File Wounded; 1 Drummer Missing.
Landgrave: 2 Rank & File Missing.
Donop: 4 Rank & File Missing.
1st Anspach: 2 Rank & File Missing.
2nd Anspach (Bayreuth): 1 Rank & File Missing.
Other records tell bits and pieces of the raid's story. Some were only a few years removed from the event, such as militia Captain John Outwater's May 1783 statement, "that Elias Brevoort has Lost One Musquit On An Alarm By the British March the twenty third 1780 then under my Command ..."29 Nineteenth century pension accounts provide more information about individual soldiers. Some, such as militia Private Garret Brinkerhoff, left complete narratives:
In the month of March 1780 ... Volunteered to Serve at a minutes warning under Capt. David Vanbusum ... In the month of April [actually March] the British Refugees and Tories made an incursion in the county as far up as the town of Hackensack at which place they Burnt the Court House and a dweling house of Adam Boyd then Sheriff of the said County of Bergen, of which disaster we Receved newes and were in a short time on our march to oppose them but coming to the place where they had commited the depredation - the enemy were on their Retreate / our company with the Rest of the militia Stationed at Hackensack followed in their Rear and annoyed them considerable before they arrived at their encampment in the Lower part of the County. Our Company then Returned to Hackensack with the Rest of the militia. Here we were stationed fourteen days to the best of the deponents Recollection.
Other men gave only minimal information. Private Andrew Lord, listed in the 27 March 1780 New-York Gazette: and Weekly Mercury list of captives, noted having enlisted in summer 1777 for three years in Captain John Lynch's company, Colonel William Richardson's 5th Maryland Regiment, "At the expiration of which time reenlisted at a place called Wicks' Farm, near Morris Town in the Jerseys. Taken prisoner while out on a scouting party or expedition under Major John [either major of the 2nd Maryland Regiment, or mistaken for Christopher] Stewart at a place called Peramner near the Sea Board and carried to New York, afterward Exchanged & joined the new 3rd Regt. at Annapolis, was at the capture of Cornwallis ..." Morris Earl was also named on the newspaper prisoner list. His wife Elisabeth remembered that "her husband ... was taken prisoner at a place Called little ferry ... by the Enemy and Carried to New York and Confined in the Sugar House for five month & Six day, and ... her husband arrived at home on the very day when Gen. Poor was buried at Hackensack in the County of Bergen." Henry Berdan also noted that Earl "was taken prisoner at a place called little ferry below Hackensack, and taken to New York and confined in the sugar house and there kept for six months ..."
Catharine Kent gave a substantial deposition in her quest for her husband's pension. Mrs. Kent's account of James Kent's revolutionary service, interspersed with some military minutiae and personal memories are a fitting end to this story of the Paramus raid:
James Kent ... was a private and sergeant in the ... Militia and other Troops of Bergen County New Jersey ... her husband ... was a native of Sussex County New Jersey and was at the time of the breaking out of the revolutionary war, an apprentice to John Freeland, at the Blacksmithing business, at a place called the "Ponds" in Franklin Township ... the said John Freeland upon the breaking out of the war give up the blacksmithing business and her ... husband having no employment entered the service in the Militia, and served as a substitute ... in the Wheat Harves[t] in the month of July 1779, she became intimately acquainted with her said husband, as it was at the time that their Courtship Commenced and at that time she distinctly recollects he was in service as a sergeant, in a Company of Troops, that was then Stationed in the Village of Hackensack, and was quartered in Willson's old School House ... said Company had, as she understood, been raised in the different Counties by enlistment for one Campaign, and that it continued so stationed, until on or about the first of January ensuing, when their terms expired and they were then discharged, as she well remembers. ... [The] Company kept a picquet guard at New Bridge, of which guard she distinctly recollects her ... husband was every other day the officer ... it is her impression that said Companys term for which it had been raised to serve was six months, and she distinctly recollects that it was in what was called the Hard winter that said Company was discharged ...her ... husband received his pay in paper money about the time he was discharged, and ... [the] Company drew their regular rations and cooked them in the farm houses, and lived in the School house, six Soldiers being in a mess ... she lived during the time said Company laid there between the Village of Hackensack and New Bridge, where ... [the] Companys picquet guard was kept, on the main road and that she distinctly recollects seeing the ... picquets pass and repass every knight and morning during the whole time it laid there ... immediately after ... [her husband's] discharge ... he went up to the Ponds, and failing to get any employment there, he came back to Hackensack again while yet it was Winter, and she think it was Captain Outwater, was then enlisting a Company for three months service into whose company her ... husband enlisted as sergeant for the term, and whether it was before, or just after said Company had been embodied in to service she cannot remember, he was taken prisoner, and was taken to New York City, where he was kept a prisoner of War, until in June, when he, "as he, and others that was prisoners with him, afterwards informed her," despairing of being soon exchanged he enlisted with the enemy, and he was with the British Army sent down to Staten Island, where he deserted, and as she distinctly recollects he came to Hackensack in that same month dressed in a full suit of British regimentals. That he said he had been enlisted about one week when he deserted ...