c1750 - 1825
Contributed by Todd Braisted
Edited by Larry Kidder
British immigrant of 1768
I came from England in 1768 to the English Neighborhood in eastern Bergen County hoping to establish the first brewery in the county. Within two years after my arrival I married Hannah Banta, also of Bergen County. By the time the Revolution broke out I possessed a house, farm, and about 20 acres of grazing land in addition to my brewery that was nearing completion.
At the outbreak of war I decided to aid the British army against the rebels. During the New York campaign in the summer and fall of 1776 I provided intelligence to Royal Navy ships on the North River. After the Battle of White Plains in late October the rebel army crossed the North River into Bergen County. General Lord Charles Cornwallis was put in charge of the advance troops ordered to follow them. Cornwallis needed local men to guide his way climbing the New Jersey Palisades on the west bank of the river and then march his troops to capture Fort Lee. I was one of his three guides and afterwards was rewarded in May 1777 with a captain’s commission in the corps of Guides and Pioneers. This was a small corps raised in the colonies to provide our army with armed military laborers, as well as officers wit special training in gathering intelligence, drawing maps, and engineering. I served with this unit for the rest of the war.
In 1783 I sailed to England to make my claims for compensation to Parliament and eventually made my home there.
Learn More About John Aldington…
I was born in England and left there in 1768 to seek my fortune in the colonies. I came to the English Neighborhood in eastern Bergen County and settled there, hoping to establish the first brewery in the county. The brewing process effectively killed any harmful bacteria in the water, so beer was a part of the everyday diet for people of all ages and stations in life. Brewers could do very well financially. The exact location of my brewery is not known today, but it was close to where Fort Lee was built and also the town of Hackensack. Located near the North River, I had access to markets in New York City as well as populous Bergen County. Within two years after my arrival I was granted a marriage license on December 13, 1770 to marry Hannah Banta, also of Bergen County. By the time the Revolution broke out I possessed a house, farm, and about 20 acres of grazing land in addition to my brewery that was nearing completion.
The outbreak of war ended my brewery plans and as a loyal Englishman I decided to aid the British army against the rebels. During the New York campaign in the summer and fall of 1776 I assisted Royal Navy ships in making their dangerous passages up and down the North River, passing between the guns of Forts Lee and Washington on opposite sides of the river. In August, the rebels prepared fire ships filled with combustibles that could be set adrift after being lit on fire and allow the current to bring them into contact with our ships. Because I warned the officers on the Renown and the frigates Rose and Phoenix that the fire ships had been completed, they were able to prepare for them. I requested to go aboard the tender Tryal that was positioned ahead of our ships. The night the fire ships came down river, the Tryal was rammed by one and completely destroyed, but the frigates escaped major damage. Fortunately, those of us aboard the Tryal were saved.
After the Battle of White Plains in late October, the rebel army crossed the North River into Bergen County. General Lord Charles Cornwallis was put in charge of the advance troops ordered to follow them. Cornwallis’ force consisted of men chosen for their ability to move rapidly. We had plenty of ships and boats to get our army across the wide North River with its swift current, but then our troops were faced with the 300 foot tall sandstone cliffs called the Palisades. Cornwallis needed local men to guide his way to negotiate the Palisades and march his troops to capture Fort Lee. I was one of three men chosen to help the army get to Fort Lee, which was near my land and brewery. Our troops landed at the foot of the Palisades near one of the few steep paths that could be used to climb the cliffs. Our army climbed the path faster than anyone thought possible and began its rapid march to capture the rebel army stationed at Fort Lee. The rebel army escaped the Fort, but left much equipment behind. I found that my brewery had been turned into a storehouse by the rebel army. After the war, I claimed a loss of £90 for my brew house. General Cornwallis himself signed a statement verifying my service in 1784, stating, “I hereby certify that Major John Aldington was a zealous Loyalist & that He guided the troops under my command, when I landed in the Province of New Jersey, in the year 1776.”
I was not yet a major when I guided the army to Fort Lee, but in May 1777 I was rewarded with a captain’s commission in the corps of Guides and Pioneers. This was a small corps raised in the colonies to provide our army with armed military laborers, as well as officers with special training in gathering intelligence, drawing maps, and engineering. I served with this unit for the rest of the war and was promoted to major commandant on April 25, 1782. Detachments of my unit served in almost every region of the conflict and I took part in the taking of Philadelphia and Charleston, as well as expeditions to Newport, Rhode Island, and Danbury, Connecticut. We Guides and Pioneers were with Cornwallis for his 1778 Grand Forage in Bergen County. This action allowed me to visit what remained of my Bergen property that shortly afterwards was confiscated by New Jersey because of my Loyalist actions.
When Parliament passed an act to compensate Loyalists for our losses and services, I sailed to England to make my claims and eventually made my home there. I received half pay as a major for the rest of my life.
Primary source documents from the British National Archives:
John Aldington’s examination before the Commissioners for American Claims, 22 November 1785. Audit Office, Class 12, Volume 14, folio 5.
Aldington to the Commissioners for American Claims, 24 November 1785. Audit Office, Class 13, Volume 108, folio 5.
Memorial of John Aldington to the Commissioners for American Claims, no date. Audit Office, Class 13, Volume 108, folio 1. Also in: Braisted, Todd. Bergen County Voices from the American Revolution: Soldiers and Residents in Their own Words, (Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, 2012), pages 17-20. Also, the original can be viewed at Ancestry.com. Canada, Loyalist Claims, 1776-1835 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013
Certificate from Lord Cornwallis, Mansfield Street, 24 January 1784. Audit Office, Class 13, Volume 108, folio 2.
“Scheme for constituting a Corps for American Service, to act in War in Concert with the Corps of Engineers, and in Peace as Surveyors, &c.” no date. Colonial Office, Class 5, Volume 7, folios 567-570.
“The Memorial of Major John Aldington in behalf of himself and the Regiment of Guides and Pioneers under his Command,” no date. Headquarters Papers of the British Army in America, PRO, 30/55/9712. Transcription also in Raymond, William O., ed. Winslow Papers, A.D. 1776 1826, American Loyalist Series, Boston: Gregg Press, 1972. (Reprint of the 1901 edition printed by the New Brunswick [Canada] Historical Society.)
Primary source document from the Library and Archives of Canada:
“Muster Roll of Major John Aldington’s Company of Guides & Pioneers from the 25 April 1782 to the 24 June following.” RG 8, “C” Series, Volume 1889.
Primary source document from the New York Historical Society:
British General Orders, Camp, English Neighbourhood, 24 September 1778. Early American Orderly Book Collection, Brigade of Guards Orderly Book.
For more on Aldington’s role in guiding Cornwallis see:
Braisted, Todd. “The Three Guides,” Journal of the American Revolution, posted June 25, 2014 at http://allthingsliberty.com/2014/06/the-three-guides/
Art: Joe Barsin