Simcoe's Raid

October, 1779

The dragoons of the Queens Rangers ride!

Lt. Colonel  John Graves Simcoe commanded the Queens Rangers, a Provincial unit of the British army.  It consisted of mounted dragoons and infantry, similiar to the American "Lee's Legion", commanded by "Light Horse" Harry Lee.   Both the Queens Rangers and Lee's Legion happened to wear green uniform coats.  Simcoe, on this raid, was able for a while to pass his men off as being part of Lee's Legion which had been operating in the central Jersey area.
   Simcoe mentions "Van Vacter's Bridge".  This is Van Veightons Bridge, now where a modern bridge crosses the Raritan river between Manville and the Finderne section of Bridgewater.  There was no town of Manville or Finderne during the Revolution,  and the village of Middlebrook has been swallowed up by Bound Brook as it grew.  (See the page on the Middlebrook encampment) The Van Horn house mentioned in the account still exists.  Millstone was then the county seat of Somerset County- then a fairly populous village.  Simcoe's men also set fire to the Dutch Reformed Church in Millstone, but the building was saved.  After the war, the county court house was built on donated land east of the village of Raritan, creating the town of Somerville.
  The Richmond mentioned is the village in Staten Island, where the Queen's Rangers returned to after the raid.

The below is taken from Simcoe's Military Journal. A History Of The Operations Of A Partisan Corps Called The Queen's Rangers, written by Simcoe after the war.

There was a general rumour of an intended attack on New-York. Lt. Col. Simcoe had information that fifty flat-boats, upon carriages, capable of holding seventy men each, were on the road from the Delaware to Washington's army, and that they had been assembled to Van Vacter's bridge, upon the Rariton. He proposed to the Commander in Chief to burn them.8 Sir Henry Clinton approved of his plan, as did Earl Cornwallis, and directed it to be put into execution. Colonel Lee, with his cavalry, had been at Monmouth: Sir Henry Clinton, upon Lieut. Col. Simcoe's application to him for intelligence of this corps, told him, that by the best information he had, Lee was gone from that part of the country. There were no other troops in the vicinity: the Jersey militia only, and those, tumultuously assembled at the moment of the execution of the enterprise, could, possibly, impede it. The coasts of Jersey had been the common receptacle of the disaffected from Staten, Long, and York island, on the British troops taking possession of them; of course, they were most virulent in their principles, and, by the custom they had of attacking, from their coverts, the British foraging  parties, in 1776, and insulting their very out-posts, they had acquired a great degree of self-confidence, and activity. Lieut. Col. Simcoe's plan was, to burn the boats with as much expedition as possible; to return, with silence, to the heights beyond the town of Brunswick, before day; there to show himself, to entice all who might follow him into an ambuscade; and if he found that his remaining in the Jersies could effect any valuable purpose, the Commander in Chief proposed to reinforce him. To execute this purpose, he was to draw his cavalry from Jericho in Long Island, by easy marches, to Staten Island; Stuart, an active and gallant man, a native of New-Jersey, commanded some cavalry on that island: these were to be added to him; and he requested ten guides: three hundred infantry of the Queen's Rangers, with their artillery, were also to accompany him. Two days were lost by a misunderstanding of the General's order: the Huzzars, of the Queen's Rangers only, being sent from Jericho, without Captain Sandford's troop, which was not merely necessary in regard to numbers, but particularly wished for, as it was known that Captain Sandford, when quarter-master of the guards, had frequently been on foraging parties in the country he was to pass through. On the 25th of October, by eight o'clock at night, the detachment, which has been detailed, marched to Billop's-point, where they were to embark. That the enterprise might be effectually concealed, Lt. Col. Simcoe described a man, as a rebel spy, to be on the island, and endeavouring to escape to New-Jersey; a great reward was offered  for taking him, and the militia of the island were watching all the places where it was possible for any man to go from, in order to apprehend him. The batteaux, and boats, which were appointed to be at Billop's-point, so as to pass the whole over by twelve o'clock at night, did not arrive till three o'clock in the morning. No time was lost; the infantry of the Queen's Rangers were landed: they ambuscaded every avenue to the town; the cavalry followed as fast as possible. As soon as it was formed, Lt. Colonel Simcoe called together the officers; he told them of his plan, "that he meant to burn the boats at Van Vacter's bridge, and crossing the Rariton, at Hillsborough, to return by the road to Brunswick, and, making a circuit to avoid that place as soon as he came near it, to discover himself when beyond it, on the heights where the Grenadier Redoubt stood while the British troops were cantoned there, and where the Queen's Rangers afterwards had been encamped; and to entice the militia, if possible, to follow him into an ambuscade which the infantry would lay for them at South-river bridge." Major Armstrong was instructed to re-embark, as soon as the cavalry marched, and to land on the opposite side of the Rariton, at South-Amboy: he was then, with the utmost despatch and silence, to proceed to South-river bridge, six miles from South-Amboy, where he was to ambuscade himself, without passing the bridge or taking it up. A smaller creek falls into this river on the South-Amboy side: into the peninsula formed by these streams, Lieut. Col. Simcoe hoped to allure the Jersey militia. In case of accident, Major Armstrong was desired to give credit to any messenger who should give him the parole, of "Clinton and Montrose." It was day-break before the cavalry left Amboy. The procuring of guides had been by Sir Henry Clinton entrusted to Brigadier Skinner: he either did not or could not obtain them, for but one was found who knew perfectly the crossroad he meant to take, to avoid the main road from Somerset-court house, or Hillsborough, to Brunswick. Captain Sandford formed the advance guard, the Huzzars followed, and Stuart's men were in the rear; making in the whole about eighty. A Justice Crow was soon overtaken; Lt. Col. Simcoe accosted him roughly, called him "Tory," nor seemed to believe his excuses, when in the American idiom for courtship, he said "he had only been sparking," but sent him to the rear guard, who, being Americans, easily comprehended their instructions, and kept up the justice's belief that the party was a detachment from Washington's army. Many plantations were now passed by, the inhabitants of which were up, and whom the party accosted with friendly salutations. At Quibletown, Lt. Col. Simcoe had just quitted the advance guard to speak to Lieut. Stuart, when, from a public house on the turn of the road, some people came out with knapsacks on their shoulders, bearing the appearance of a rebel guard: Captain Sandford did not see them till he had passed by, when, checking his horse to give notice, the Huzzars were reduced to a momentary halt opposite the house; perceiving the supposed guard, they threw themselves off their horses, sword in hand, and entered the house. Lt. Col. Simcoe instantly made them remount: but they were afraid to discover some thousand pounds of paper-money which had been taken from a passenger, the master of a privateer, nor could he stay to search for it. He told the man, "that he would be answerable to give him his money that night at Brunswick, where he should quarter;" exclaimed aloud to his party, "that these were not the Tories they were in search of, although they had knapsacks," and told the country people who were assembling around, "that a party of Tories had made their escape from Sullivan's army, and were trying to get into Staten Island, as Iliff (who had been defeated, near this very spot, taken, and executed) had formerly done, and that he was sent to intercept them:" the sight of Justice Crow would, probably, have aided in deceiving the inhabitants, but, unfortunately, a man personally knew Lt. Col. Simcoe, and an express was sent to Governor Levingstone, then at Brunswick, as soon as the party marched. It was now conducted by a country lad whom they fell in with, and to whom Captain Sandford, being dressed in red, and without his cloak, had been introduced as a French officer: he gave information, that the greater part of the boats had been sent on to Washington's camp, but that eighteen were at Van Vacter's bridge, and that their horses were at a farm about a mile from it: he led the party to an old camp of Washington's above Bound brook. Lt. Col. Simcoe's instructions were to burn these huts, if possible, in order to give as wide an alarm to the Jersies as he could. He found it impracticable to do so, they not being joined in ranges, nor built of very combustible materials. He proceeded without delay to Bound brook, from whence he intended to carry off Col. Moyland, but he was not at Mr. Vanhorn's: two officers who had been ill were there; their paroles were taken; and they were ordered to mark "sick quarters" over the room door they inhabited, which was done; and Mr. Vanhorn was informed, that the party was the advanced guard of the left column of the army, which was commanded by General Birch, who meant to quarter that night at his house; and that Sir H. Clinton was in full march for Morris-town, with the army. The party proceeded to Van Vacter's bridge: Lieut. Col. Simcoe found eighteen new flat-boats, upon carriages; they were full of water. He was determined effectually to destroy them. Combustibles had been applied for, and he received, in consequence, a few port-fires; every Huzzar had a hand-grenade, and several hatchets were brought with the party. The timbers of the boats were cut through; they were filled with straw and railing, and some grenades being fastened in them, they were set on fire: forty minutes were employed in this business. The country began to assemble in their rear; and as Lt. Col. Simcoe went to the Dutch-meeting, where the harness, and some stores, were reported to be, a rifle-shot was fired at him from the opposite bank of the river: this house, with a magazine of forage, was now consumed, the commissary, and his people, being made prisoners. The party proceeded to Somerset court-house, or Hillsborough. Lt. Col. Simcoe told the prisoners not to be alarmed, that he would give them their paroles before he left the Jersies; but he could not help heavily lamenting to the officers with him, the sinister events which prevented him from being at Van Vacter's bridge some hours sooner, as it would have been very feasible to have drawn off the flat-boats to the South river, instead of destroying them. He proceeded to Somerset court-house; three Loyalists, who were prisoners there, were liberated; one of them was a dreadful spectacle, he appeared to have been almost starved, and was chained to the floor; the soldiers wished, and it was permitted to burn the court-house: it was unconnected with any other building, and, by its flames, showed on which side of the Rariton he was, and would, most probably, operate to assemble the neighborhood of Brunswick at its bridge, to prevent him from returning by that road: the party proceeded towards Brunswick. Alarm guns were now heard, and some shots were fired at the rear, particularly by one person, who, as it afterwards appeared, being out a shooting, and hearing of the incursion, had sent word to Governor Levingstone, who was at Brunswick, that he would follow the party at a distance, and every now and then give a shot, that he might know which way they directed their march. Passing by some houses, Lt. Col. Simcoe told the women to inform four or five people who were pursuing the rear "that if they fired another shot, he would burn every house which he passed." A man or two were now slightly wounded. As the party approached Brunswick, Lieut. Col. Simcoe began to be anxious for the cross road, diverging from it into the Prince-town road, which he meant to pursue, and which having once arrived at, he himself knew the bye ways to the heights he wished to attain, where having frequently done duty, he was minutely acquainted with every advantage and circumstance of the ground: his guide was perfectly confident that he was not yet arrived at it; and Lt. Col. Simcoe was in earnest conversation with him, and making the necessary enquiries, when a shot, at some little distance, discovered there was a party in the front. He immediately galloped thither; and he sent back Wright, his orderly serjeant, to acquaint Captain Sandford "that the shot had not been fired at the party," when, on the right at some distance, he saw the rail fence (which was very high on both sides of the narrow road between two woods) somewhat broken down, and a man or two near it, when putting his horse on the canter, he joined the advance men of the Huzzars, determining to pass through this opening, so as to avoid every ambuscade that might be laid for him, or attack, upon more equal terms, Colonel Lee, (whom he understood to be in the neighborhood, and apprehended might be opposed to him,) or any other party; when he saw some men concealed behind logs and bushes, between him and the opening he meant to pass through, and he heard the words, "now, now," and found himself, when he recovered his senses, prisoner with the enemy, his horse being killed with five bullets, and himself stunned by the violence of his fall. His imprisonment, the circumstances which attended it, and the indelible impressions which it has made on his memory, cannot, even at this distance, be repeated without the strongest emotions: as they merely relate to personal history, they, with his correspondence with Sir H. Clinton, Governor Levingstone, Col. Lee, Gen. Washington, &c. &c. are referred to the appendix.

Lt. Col. Simcoe had no opportunity of communicating his determination to any of his officers, they being all with their respective divisions ready for what might follow upon the signal shot of the enemy, and his resolution being one of those where thought must go hand in hand with execution, it is no wonder, therefore, that the party, who did not perceive the opening he was aiming at, followed with the accelerated pace which the front, being upon the canter, too generally brings upon the rear; they passed the ambuscade in great confusion: three horses were wounded, and the men made prisoners, two of them being also wounded. The enemy who fired were not five yards off: they consisted of thirty men, commanded by Mariner, a refugee from New York, and well known for his enterprises with whale-boats. They were posted on the very spot which Lt. Col. Simcoe had always aimed at avoiding. His guide misled him: nor was the reason of his error the least uncommon of the sinister events which attended this incursion. When the British troops quitted the camp at Hillsborough,  and marched to Brunswick, among other houses which were unwarrantably burnt was the one which the guard relied upon, as marking out the private road the party was to take: he knew not of its being burnt, and that every vestige had been destroyed, so that he led them unintentionally into the ambuscade; which when the party had passed by on the full gallop, they found themselves on the high grounds beyond the barracks at Brunswick. Here they rallied; there was little doubt but Lt. Col. Simcoe was killed: the surgeon, (Mr. Kellock,) with a white handkerchief, held out as a flag of truce, at the manifest risk of his life, returned to enquire for him. The militia assembling, Captain Sandford drew up, and charged them, of course, they fled: a Captain Vorhees, of the Jersey Continental troops, was overtaken, and the Huzzar, at whom he had fired, killed him. A few prisoners were taken. Captain Sandford proceeded to the South river, the guides having recovered from the consternation. Two militia-men only were met with upon the road thither: they fired, and killed Molloy, a brave Huzzar, the advance man of the party, and were themselves instantly put to death. At South river the cavalry joined Major Armstrong; he had perfectly succeeded in arriving at his post undiscovered, and, ambuscading himself, had taken several prisoners. He marched back to South-Amboy, and re-embarked without opposition, exchanging some of the bad horses of the corps for better ones which he had taken with the prisoners. The alarm through the country was general; Wayne was detached from Washington's camp in the highlands, with the light troops, and marched fourteen miles that night, and thirty the next day; Colonel Lee, who was in Monmouth county, as it was said, fell back towards the Delaware. The Queen's Rangers returned to Richmond that evening: the cavalry had marched upwards of eighty miles, without halting or refreshment, and the infantry thirty.

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