On 21 January 1776, the New York Committee of Safety learned of a British transport in distress off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey.[i] Near five o’clock on the morning of the 22nd, William Alexander, Lord Stirling received word of the troubled ship through a letter from the Committee and immediately set off for Amboy. Described in the letter as “A galley-built ship” of between three and four hundred tons, it had “yellow sides, blue quarter-boards, with the trophies of war painted on the quarter-boards” and “six three-pounders on the quarter deck” with about twenty men on board,[ii] capturing the ship would be a blow to the British and make for a rich prize. Upon receiving this news, Stirling immediately set out for Amboy. Upon arriving there, he seized a pilot boat, and by two o’clock in the morning on the 23rd he set off with about forty men. As he pushed off, three other boats from Elizabethtown, with about 120 men under the command of Colonels Elias Dayton and Edward Thomas, joined him. The men set off for the British ship, which was about six leagues[iv] from shore, southeast of Sandy Hook. By 10 o’clock in the morning the colonials had boarded the Blue Mountain Valley, commanded by Captain James Hamilton Dempster, without opposition. Stirling gave command of the ship to a Mister Rogers, a sea captain. Due to contrary winds, it took until the 26th for the ship to come in to shore.[v]
The Blue Mountain Valley arrived at Elizabethtown Point where Lord Stirling and his troops placed it under guard until the New York Committee of Safety was able to take it under their care. The captain and crew - numbering at least sixteen men - were given parole in the town. The ship, which had sailed from London on 13 October 1775, carried coal, porter, and various foodstuffs, and was destined for the British soldiers in Boston.[vi] Instead of assisting the British, the ship and its cargo were sold at public auction by the Americans on 18 March 1776.[vii]
[i] A pilot had apparently captured a man from the transport and reported back information about the ship to the New York Committee of Safety (American Archives Series 4, Volume 4, “New York Committee of Safety to Lord Stirling,” 21 January 1776, 796). Sandy Hook is a narrow strip of land that projects northward from the Jersey coast, towards New York City, covering the southern end of New York Bay. The main ship channel ran almost east to west, close to the northern end of the Hook. This land was the only solid ground approaching the Harbor where fortifications within cannon range could be established. Whoever commanded Sandy Hook, therefore, commanded the entrance to New York Harbor. Though it is probable that fortifications existed at Sandy Hook as early as 1680, it is certain that it was fortified by the British by the spring of 1776 (The Major Operations of the Navies in the War of American Independence. Alfred T. Mahan, D.C.L., LL.D., Captain, US Navy. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1913, 65; and Sandy Hook and the Land of the Navesink. Samuel Stelle Smith. Monmouth Beach, NJ: Philip Freneau Press, 1963, 18).
[iv] The actual distance of a league varied over time and location. In English-speaking countries it is generally estimated to be about three miles.
[v] Naval Documents of the American Revolution Volume 3, 1775-1776. Ed. William Bell Clark. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968, 959; and History of Elizabeth, New Jersey, Including the Early History of Union County. Rev. Edwin F. Hatfield. New York: Carlton & Lanahan, 1868, 422.
[vi] In the same letter as above, Ogden wrote that the Manifest, dated 30 September 1775, showed “107¼ chaldrons of coal, 30 bundles of hoops, 100 butts of porter, branded—‘Calvert,’ 225 bags of beans, 156 sacks of potatoes, 10 casks sour-krout, 80 live hogs, and 35 empty puncheons, for water,” shipped by Mure, Son, and Atkinson, of London. (History of Elizabeth, New Jersey, Including the Early History of Union County. Rev. Edwin F. Hatfield. New York: Carlton & Lanahan, 1868, 423).
[vii] Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey. Vol. I. Extracts from American Newspapers. 1776-1777. ed. William S. Stryker. Trenton: The John L. Murphy Publishing Co., 1901, 68.