c1733 - 1789
Contributed by Todd Braisted
Edited by Larry Kidder
Defense of the Hudson, Retreat Across the Jerseys, Divided Loyalties
I was a well-to-do Essex County merchant who also served as a militia captain. I married Jannetje Vrelandt, known as Jane. During the spring of 1776 my militia company spent time in Brooklyn building fortifications for defense against an expected British invasion that summer. However, the Declaration of Independence caused me to reassess my commitment to the struggle. Fighting for a redress of grievances was one thing, but fighting for independence was quite another. As the Continental soldiers retreated after the fall of Fort Lee I slipped through their lines and joined the British as major in the Third Battalion of the New Jersey Volunteers. After making several raids on rebel held areas, we were attacked on Staten Island in August 1777 and our lieutenant colonel was mortally wounded. I expected to replace him, but the Sixth Battalion merged with my Third and Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Allen was put in command. My battalion served in Georgia in 1779 and marched from Savannah to Augusta in 1780. I was captured in September, but was exchanged just in time to rejoin my battalion at the post at Ninety Six in South Carolina where we heroically held off a much larger Continental force. After the evacuation of Charlestown in 1782, we sailed back to New York and soon I heard about the preliminary peace agreement. Jane and I sailed with the British army when it evacuated New York and lived the rest of our lives in London. I was only about fifty-six years old when I died in 1789.
Learn More About Robert Drummond…
Born in Essex County about 1733 I grew up to become a well-to-do merchant and shipper who also served in public offices such as magistrate and militia captain. In 1759, I married Jannetje Vrelandt, known as Jane, at Acquackanonk Landing, an important inland port located on the Passaic River. We had three living children when the Revolution began.
During the spring of 1776, my Essex County militia company spent time in Brooklyn building fortifications for defense against an expected British invasion that summer. That year I also served as a member of the New Jersey Provincial Congress. However, while I could justify my participation in protests against British policies and laws, the Declaration of Independence in July 1776 caused me to reassess my commitment to the struggle. Fighting for a redress of grievances was one thing, but fighting for independence was quite another. I struggled with my conscience until November when Lord Cornwallis took Fort Lee and Washington’s army began its retreat across New Jersey. As the Continental soldiers retreated, I slipped through their lines and joined the British. I met with Cortland Skinner, the last attorney general of our province under the Royal government, who was enlisting men for what became the New Jersey Volunteers, the largest Loyalist military unit of the American Revolution. The Volunteers were initially organized into six battalions and I was commissioned as major in the Third Battalion.
I made an immediate contribution when Washington’s rear guard destroyed a bridge over the Passaic River to delay our pursuit. Well acquainted with the area, because it was my home, I led a detachment of the British 16th Light Dragoons to a ford about a mile up the river and enabled the army to continue its pursuit of the Continental army.
With the rebel army out of my area I set about recruiting men for my new battalion. After the war I claimed that I enlisted one hundred twenty men, but surviving evidence only shows thirtynine. The muster rolls of my company list men who resided in my neighborhood, including nine members of the prominent Garrabrant family.
I participated in a raid on Bergen County the morning of April 26, 1777 that surprised and carried off rebel Captain Wynant Van Zandt and three men from Garrit Hopper’s neighborhood. We also captured “twelve guns, five or six horses, a wagon, and a chest & Cask of goods from Hopper’s the goods said to belong to P. Curtenus.” A number of other men ran off or concealed themselves and escaped capture. After my battalion relocated to Staten Island, I made at least one more raid into New Jersey, helping lead about sixty men some twentyseven miles into New Jersey where we captured cattle, supplies, and fourteen prisoners. However, we were on the defensive when Major General John Sullivan attacked Staten Island with 2,000 Continental troops in August 1777 and Lieutenant Colonel Dongan of my battalion was mortally wounded. I expected to replace Dongan, but because the New Jersey Volunteers were short of men, the six battalions were reduced to four and the Sixth merged with my Third. Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Allen, a lawyer from Trenton noted for his military talents, was put in command. I also could tell that my men did not think as highly of me and neither did my fellow officers, but I still took pride in my service.
My battalion served in Georgia in 1779 and marched from Savannah to Augusta in 1780. I remained in Augusta responsible for about twenty sick soldiers while Lieutenant Colonel Allen led the rest of the battalion to the post at Ninety Six, South Carolina. Augusta was overrun and almost captured in September 1780 and while our forces turned back the attack, I was captured along with most of my men, and held prisoner over the winter. I was exchanged just in time to rejoin my battalion at Ninety Six where our Loyalists heroically held off General Nathanael Greene’s much larger Continental force.
My battalion took part in additional fighting in the south in 1781, but I was not present for it. I did, however, witness the fighting in South Carolina after Yorktown until my battalion sailed back to New York after the evacuation of Charlestown in December 1782. There I heard about the preliminary peace agreement and its few provisions to protect those of us who remained loyal. Jane and I left with the British army when it evacuated New York on November 25, 1783 and were set up in London by the following February. I was awarded £1286 in damages by the Commissioners for American Claims and this allowed me to live in some comfort for the remaining five years of my life. I was only about fifty-six years old when I died and was buried in St. Luke’s Churchyard on February 3, 1789.
Account of the Siege of Ninety Six, written by Lieutenant John Hatton, 3rd Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers. Roderick Mackenzie. Strictures on Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton’s History. Printed for the author, London: 1787.
Hastings, Hugh (ed.) Public Papers of George Clinton. Albany: The State of New York, 1899-1914, vol I, 740-741.
Jones, E. Alfred. The Loyalists of New Jersey. Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society, vol 10, Newark: New Jersey Historical Society,1927, 65-66.
The New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, August 25, 1777.
“Copy of a letter from Brigadier General Campbell to Sir Henry Clinton, dated Head-Quarters, Staten Island, August 23, 1777.” The Pennsylvania Ledger (Philadelphia,) March 11, 1778.
At the National Archives of Great Britain:
Memorial of Robert Drummond to the Commissioners for American Claims, London, 16 February 1784. Audit Office, Class 13, Volume 109, folio 206.
Certificate of Cortland Skinner in favor of Robert Drummond, Fivefield Row, Chelsea, 19 April 1784. Audit Office, Class 13, Volume 109, folio 227.
“A Return of killed, wounded, missing and prisoners of the 3rd Batt. New Jersey Volunteers in the Action with the Rebels at Augusta, 14th September 1780.” Cornwallis Papers, PRO 30/11/103, folio 4.
“Abstract of Subsistence for the Third Battalion of New Jersey Volunteers, Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Allen Commandant from the 25th April to the 24th June 1781, both days inclusive.” Chancery, Class 106, Volume 90, Part 2, Bundle 2.
“List of Field Officers of the Established Provincial Corps of North America.” Colonial Office, Class 5, Volume 8, folio 485.
“Return of the Army under the Command of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stewart, taken on the Morning before the Action at Eutaws September 8th 1781.” Colonial Office, Class 5, Volume 104, folio 136.
At the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration:
Captain Joseph Lee to Captain Lieutenant Edward Stelle, New York, 18 June 1781. Papers of the Continental Congress, Collection M-247, Reel 65, i51, Volume 1, Pages 585-587, NARA.
At the Library and Archives Canada:
Muster Roll of Major Robert Drummond’s Company, 3rd Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers, Staten Island, 7 May 1778. RG 8, “C” Series, Volume 1856, Page 47, Library and Archives Canada.
At the New Jersey State Archives:
“Brigr. General Cortland Skinner in Account Current with 3rd Battn. N. Jersey Volunteers for bounty.” Document 62-L, Department of Defense, Loyalist Manuscripts.
At the Library of Congress:
Captain Isaac Beall, “A Report of An Expedition to Hackensack &c.” 20 April 1777. George Washington Papers, Series 4, 6 April 1777 — 29 May 1777, Library of Congress.
At the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan:
Cortland Skinner to Sir Henry Clinton, New York, 13 April 1778. Sir Henry Clinton Papers, Volume 33, item 33.
Art: Joe Barsin