I was born in 1748, on my parents’ farm in Cumberland County. I became a carpenter and with a partner built houses and barns. I married Hannah Fithian Barker, and we had three children. After the British redcoats attacked Massachusetts militiamen in April 1775, each Cumberland County township formed a militia company and I became lieutenant in Captain Daniel Maskell’s Greenwich company. In 1776, I was at the Battle of Long Island. In September, 1777, we were chased out of Philadelphia after the battle of Brandywine. Our forts on the Delaware prevented ships from supplying the British army in Philadelphia until November 19 when Lord Cornwallis forced the abandonment of Fort Mercer. Shortly after, I was stationed at Haddonfield with about 500 militia under Colonel Ellis, 170 of Morgan’s riflemen, and a troop of Continental Light Dragoons. On November 24, the Marquis de Lafayette joined us and led us to attack a Hessian outpost where the King’s Road crosses a brook. About a half mile from the bridge, we heard shots and the marquis rode past us shouting “allons-y!” (“Let’s go!”) and we began jogging toward a line of Hessians. I checked my priming, and had turned to my men saying “come well lads,” when I was struck and killed by a Hessian shot. I was just 29 years old.
Learn More About Lieutenant David Mulford
I was born January 20, 1748, on my parents’ farm in Cumberland County. When I was fourteen, my father paid a carpenter to take me on as an apprentice for seven years. My apprenticeship ended in 1769, but I continued working for my master to save money for starting on my own. The saddest job for a carpenter was building coffins. In March 1770, we built a coffin for William Barker, who left a young widow, Hannah, younger than I—they had been married less than four years. In December 1771, I was fortunate to marry that young widow, Hannah Fithian Barker, and we had three children: Hannah, Enoch, and little Deborah.
After we learned of the British redcoats attacking the Massachusetts militia in April 1775, all the Cumberland County townships formed militia companies. I joined Captain Daniel Maskell’s Greenwich Company and was soon appointed a sergeant. In 1776, I volunteered to help defend New York City as part of 3,300 militiamen who volunteered to serve for five months. Our major, William Kelsey, volunteered to raise a company and promised, if I would join, to nominate me second lieutenant. Hannah did not want me to go, but it seemed the right thing to do, and the pay was good—a £3 bonus for joining and 13 1/3 dollars a month pay. I was at the defeat at the Battle of Long Island and thereafter our service was to retreat, dig fortifications, retreat again, dig more, until with the rest of the army, we crossed back over the Hudson River to New Jersey and arrived in New Brunswick on November 30. Our enlistments expired the next day and “badly clothed and many of them without shoes” our men, including me, could not be prevailed upon to re-enlist and went home to protect our families from the British now occupying New Jersey. I was so very happy to see Hannah and our darling children and to get back to carpentry. I was not called out in December and so missed the excitement at Mount Holly, Trenton, and Princeton.
Then in July, Captain Maskell sent me to Woodbury with a wagon to draw public arms from commissary Thomas Denny for the men in our company who could not afford to supply their own muskets, cartridge boxes, or bayonets as required by law. Esquire Denny issued me twenty-two muskets, twenty cartridge boxes, but only one bayonet—his last one.
In September 1777, we were garrisoning Philadelphia when the British defeated Washington at Brandywine and chased us out of Philadelphia. For almost eight weeks, our forts on the Delaware prevented the British ships from bringing supplies to their army in Philadelphia, but on November 19, Lord Cornwallis forced our army to abandon Fort Mercer.
By November 24, we were stationed in Haddonfield with about 500 militia under Colonel Ellis, 170 of Morgan’s riflemen, and a troop of Continental Light Dragoons. During the 24th, two groups of Continentals joined us. Their leader was a Frenchman, the Marquis de Lafayette, a young man who spoke understandable English but already losing his hair! The next day I participated in capturing some British soldiers out looking for plunder. Lafayette then led us to attack an outpost of Hessian riflemen at the bridge where the King’s Road crosses a brook. About a half mile from the bridge, we heard shots. The marquis rode past us shouting “allons-y!\(Let’s go!)” We began jogging towards a line of Hessians formed ahead of us stretching from the field on the right into the woods on the left. Our rifle men were on both flanks firing. Some militia deployed to the right, others to the left, and others straight down the road, loading, firing, and cheering. I checked my priming, and had turned to my men saying “come well lads,” when I was rocked by a blow—intense pain. I could feel my lungs filling with blood, I was dying. While only a skirmish—a “trifling affair” according to Lafayette—this encounter was a great success and later became known as the “Battle of Gloucester.”
I died that evening and was buried in an unmarked grave in Haddonfield. Hannah died in 1779, leaving our three children orphans in the care of relatives. In 1781, the State of New Jersey provided them with a small, lump sum pension payment. The Mulford family erected a stone in memory of me in the grave yard at the Sheppard’s Mill Baptist Meeting House, Hopewell Township, Cumberland County.
This recreation of David Mulford’s life is based, as far as possible, on facts. Except for his death, the facts of his life are few—dates of his birth, marriage, the births of his children. These are available through Ancestry.com.
Essential and accessible sources for understanding the Battle of Gloucester are the letters to and from Generals George Washington, Nathanael Greene, and the marquis de Lafayette:
Washington, George. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 12, October-December 1777. Edited by Frank E. Grizzard Jr. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2002.
Greene, Nathaniel. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. 1976-2015. Volume 2. Edited by Richard K. Showman. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980.
Lafayette, Gilbert du Motier, marquis de. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776-1790, vol. 1, 1776-1778. Edited by Stanley J. Idzerda. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977-.
The National Archives has reproduced thousands of Revolutionary War soldiers’ pension applications on microfilm. They are accessible at some archives and at Fold3.com. Those describing the November 23rd skirmish at Big Timber Creek are the applications of Samuel Asay (R.273), Robert Leeds (S.18489), Charles Simpkins (R.9588), and Jeremiah Towser (S.6254). The best describing Lieutenant Mulford’s death are Richard Sayres (S.4660) and Ephraim Simpkins (S.4673).
The birth of the Cumberland County militias is described in Ebenezer Elmer’s 1775 journal reproduced in Cushing, Thomas and Charles E. Sheppard. History of the Counties of Gloucester, Salem, and Cumberland, New Jersey. Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1883, 538-39.
Two journals from the 1770s provide invaluable insights into daily life. Both can be difficult to obtain:
Fithian, Philip Vickers. The Beloved Cohansie of Philip Vickers Fithian. Edited by F. Alan Palmer. Bridgeton, NJ: Cumberland County Historical Society, 1990.
Whitall, Job. The Diary of Job Whitall of Gloucester County, New Jersey: 1775-1779. Transcribed by Florence DeHuff Friel. Woodbury, NJ: Gloucester County Historical Society, 1992.
Garry Wheeler Stone
Collision! Lafaette’s detachment collides with advancing Hessian riflemen about four o’clock, Tuesday, November 25, 1777.
“In Memory of DAVID MULFORD, Lieutenant of the Greenwich Militia, who fell in a skirmish with the Hessians near Haddonfield in the State of New Jersey in the Year 1777, Aged 29 Years.” Photo: Eric Stephenson.
Art: Joe Barsin