17 November 2010

Massacre at Old Tappan

Colonel George Baylor, a native of Virginia who had short military service as an aide to General George Washington, was twenty-six years old in the summer of 1778. He commanded a regiment of dragoons* alternately known as the Third Continental Dragoons, the Third Light Dragoons or Lady Washington’s Guards. Baylor’s lightly armed regiment carried out few patrols; their duties consisted mostly of reconnaissance and escort, and they were accordingly lightly armed with sabers and some few pistols. (1) The major distinction in his career thus far was when he was awarded the privilege of delivering the news of Washington’s victory at Trenton and the captured Hessian flag to the Continental Congress in Baltimore. (2)

On 22 September 1778, the British sent a foraging expedition of about five thousand men from New York to the area between the Hackensack River and the Hudson River, where it was felt they would be best defended from an American attack. Five days later, Baylor’s regiment, which consisted of about 120 officers and men, was ordered to take a position between the main American army and the British foraging parties. With Major Alexander Clough, an experienced soldier and horseman, as second in command, the regiment moved to Harrington, New Jersey. Baylor and Clough made their headquarters at the house of Cornelius Haring, a known Tory. His officers boarded at four nearby houses, while his men stayed in six other out-buildings along the road. To the east, Baylor posted a guard at the bridge over the Hackensack River and sent out small patrols. (3)

General Charles Grey, in command of one of the British foraging parties, learned of Baylor’s position and prepared to move on the regiment. General Grey had earned a fierce reputation for taking no prisoners in a massacre of American troops at Paoli in Pennsylvania a year earlier. Among his tactics was the removal of the flint from the weapons of his soldiers to prevent any accidental discharge and preserve the secrecy of his attack. This forced his men to rely on close-quarters fighting and their bayonets. Since an attack from the west was most unlikely, Grey proceeded up the Kinderkamack Road to attack from that direction. Under Grey’s command were the Second Battalion of Light Infantry, the second Battalion of the Grenadiers, the 33rd and 64th Regiments of Foot, and a small detachment of cavalry. Grey ordered his Light Infantry to attack from two directions.

Major John Maitland with six companies advanced along the road to the patrol stationed at the bridge. Major Turner Straubenzee was led by Tory guides from the west to Baylor’s location. Between one and two o’clock in the morning of 28 September, the attack began. The sleeping Americans were completely surprised. Some of Baylor’s dragoons attempted to defend themselves with pistols or sabers, while others tried to hide under the hay in the barns. The British soldiers used their bayonets effectively, and also used their muskets as clubs to beat some of the American soldiers. (4) When Baylor and Clough heard the noise, they attempted to hide from the British by climbing into the chimney of the house where they were quartered. Both men were bayoneted multiple times by the British. (5)

Of the 120 Americans, the British killed eleven on the spot, while taking thirty-nine prisoners, eight of whom were wounded. The British left behind seventeen wounded Americans, four of whom later died. Only thirty-seven Americans escaped unharmed. Some of the Americans, were run through with bayonets a dozen times or more. Pvt. Julian King was reported to have been stabbed sixteen times, while two others received twelve wounds. Major Clough died of his wounds the following day, though Baylor lived on for two more years. (6) The British only lost one man, who was shot by an American dragoon. (7)

The British retreated to Tappan with their prisoners and supplies, and the Bergen County militia was sent out to locate survivors. The militia found six men killed at the bridge and others near the barns, but fearing a return of the British troops, they hastily buried the men in three abandoned leather tanning vats near the site of the massacre by the Hackensack River. (8)

In the spring of 1967, Thomas Demarest of Old Tappan claimed to know the location of the American burials, and feared that new development would destroy the site permanently. By summer of that year, the remains of six men were found buried in tanning vats in the area. (9) Today, the Baylor Massacre Park honors the American soldiers killed in this attack.

*Dragoons were mounted infantrymen, or lightly armed cavalrymen.

(1) The Massacre of Baylor’s Dragoons. By D. Bennett Mazur, Bergen Co. Board of Chosen Freeholders, 1968, p. 7.

(2) The Revolutionary War in Bergen County: The Times That Tried Men’s Souls. Edited by Carol Karels, The History Press, Charleston, SC, 2007, p. 118.

(3) Mazur, p. 7-8. Karels, p. 120.

(4) Mazur, p. 9.

(5) Karels, p. 120.

(6) Mazur, p. 9.

(7) Karels, p. 123.

(8) Karels, p. 123.

(9) Mazur, p. 19.

1 comment:

  1. Also suggest "Dragoon Diary" for the history of the Third Dragoons and their battles and, of course, their disaster in "Old Tappan."

    Available through Authorhouse.

    Bill Maurer