02 November 2010

Massacre at Osborn Island

After the British attack at Chestnut Neck, New Jersey, on 6 October 1778, the Americans responded by sending General Casimir Pulaski and his Legion to Tuckerton, New Jersey, where they arrived on 8 October. He made his headquarters at the farm of James Willets and set up his men in camp. The First Troop of Light Dragoons and Militia Pulaski placed at his left, a few hundred yards to the east. At his right he posted the infantry, and about half a mile to the southwest, in another farmhouse, a picket post of forty-five men was stationed to guard against surprise attack. (1)

The British were prepared to sail back to New York on 8 October, but were delayed from the lack of wind. While they were waiting, a member of Pulaski’s infantry, Carl Wilhelm Joseph Juliat (a Hessian deserter who joined the American after the Battle of Trenton), and six other soldiers left the American camp under the pretext that they were going fishing. Instead, on 13 October, the men rowed out to the British flagship, H.M.S. Nautilus, to alert them of the American presence. (2) The following night, Juliat was in the lead, guiding a party of 250 British soldiers, under the command of Captain Ferguson, ashore. There they met with men from the Third Battalion of New Jersey Loyalist volunteers and continued to about ten more miles in boats to Osborn Island. Between three and four o’clock in the morning of 15 October, the British force landed. They approached the house of Richard Osborn, Jr., where they found his son, Thomas. Thomas was forced upon pain of death to guide the British to the American outposts. (3)

About one mile from Pulaski’s right flank, the British approached a bridge over a small creek, which they found unguarded. Fifty men were left here, in order to secure the British retreat. The main force continued across salt meadows before reaching Pulaski’s outpost, where they found a lone sentinel. This soldier was either taken or killed (reports vary), and the British surrounded the farmhouse. (4) Once the infantry’s position was surrounded, the British entered the farmhouse with bayonets at the ready. The infantrymen of Pulaski’s Legion were awaken by the British entry, but in the dark and confusion had little time to defend themselves. Thomas Osborn, in the confusion, escaped, but the Americans were not so lucky. Though many of the Americans cried for quarter, their pleas were largely ignored. Lieutenant Colonel Baron Charles August von Bose, in command of the infantry, attempted to lead his men through the British encirclement, with his sword and pistol in hand. Juliat saw him, and pointed out his rank to the attacking British, who ran the colonel with their bayonets. The second in command, Second Lieutenant Joseph de la Borderie fell in a similar manner. (5) It is believed that about 40 Americans were killed, and a small number made their escape. Captain Ferguson reported: “It being a night attack, little quarter could, of course, be given, so that there are only five prisoners.” Although it was reported the British burned some buildings before retreating, Ferguson reported that although he “had an Opportunity of destroying part of the Baggage and Equipage of Pulaski’s Legion, by burning their Quarters, but as the House belonged to some inoffensive Quakers who had suffered enough, nothing was done.” (6)

Upon hearing the sounds of battle, Pulaski readies his cavalry, but by the time he arrived at the farmhouse, the British had retreated. His attempt to follow them was prevented as the British removed the planking on the bridge. Although his cavalry could not cross the creek, some riflemen and infantry were able to cross on the remnants of the bridge and fire some shots at the retreating British. Pulaski reported to Congress: “We had cut off the retreat of about 25 men, who retired into the country and the woods, and we cannot find them; the general opinion is, that they are concealed by the tories in the neighbourhood of their encampment.” (7) Ferguson reported “two men of the Fifth, and one of the Provincials missing, and two of the Fifth slightly wounded. Ensign Camp, of the Third Jersey Volunteers, has received a stab through his thigh.” (8)

After this action, Pulaski moved his men to Barnegat. The British fleet, awaiting the arrival of Ferguson and his men, spotted an American privateer entering Little Egg Harbor. The ship was unaware of the British presence, and the startled American crew abandoned their ship, which was carrying six swivel guns and one two-pounder. (9) After Ferguson and his men returned, the British sailed out of Little Egg Harbor. Unfortunately for them, the flagship, H.M.S. Zebra, was grounded on a sand bar. Captain Collins, fearing the ship would be taken by the Americans, ordered everything of value removed from it and then ordered it burned. (10) The British returned to Staten Island from their successful endeavor on 23 October. (11)

(1) A Nest of Rebel Pirates. by Franklin W. Kemp. The Laureate Press, Egg Harbor City, NJ 1993, p. 44.

(2) Brief Encounter at Osborn Island: The Pulaski Affair. by Pauline S. Miller. Ocean County Cultural & Heritage Commission, Toms River, NJ, 1998, p. 14.

(3) The Affair at Egg Harbor New Jersey October 15, 1778. by William S. Stryker. Atlantic County Historical Society, Somers Point (NJ), n.d., p. 9.

(4) ibid.

(5) A Nest of Rebel Pirates, p. 48.

(6) ibid, p. 127.

(7) ibid, p. 128.

(8) The Affair at Egg Harbor New Jersey, p. 18.

(9) A Nest of Rebel Pirates, p. 50.

(10) King’s Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King’s Mountain, October 7, 1780, and the Events Which Led to It. By Lyman C. Draper, copyright Peter G. Thomson, Cincinnati, OH, 1881, p. 60.

(11) “The Massacre of Chestnut Neck,” by Howard M. Guttman. The Crossroads Volume XIII No. 3 December 1975, p. 4.

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