Poor Twist
The death of a young soldier on sentinel near Elizabethtown.

From: Private Yankee Doodle, Being a Narrative of some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier, by Joseph Plumb Martin, Eastern Acorn Press, pg. 173

Private Martin was a Continental soldier in the Connecticut line through most of the war. In 1780 he was with the encampment at Morristown. The Connecticut Brigades were sent to guard the "frontiers" of New Jersey along the coast near Staten Island, which island was held by the British, and used as a base of operations to raid into New Jersey. These frequent raids caused the area along the coast and Hudson river to be called the Neutral Ground- controlled by neither side. The constant threat of capture turned many locals to supporting the British. Loyalists (Tories) were probably more common than patriots (Whigs). Refugees are those Loyalists that had left New Jersey to go to the enemy in New York.
This account is typical of the type of actions seen by both the various Continental regiments that guarded the area, and the local militia who were there. The militia however, would never be relieved, and their homes were known to the Loyalists, making them targets at all times.


We continued here [Jockey Hollow, near Morristown], starving and freezing, until, I think, sometime in the month of February, when the two Connecticut brigades were ordered to the lines near Staten Island. The small parties from the army which were sent to the lines were often surprised and taken by the enemy or cut to pieces by them. These circumstances, it seems, determined the Commander in chief to have a sufficient number of troops there to withstand the enemy even if they should come in considerable force. And now a long continuation of our hardships appeared unavoidable. The First Brigade took up its quarters in a village called Westfield, and the Second Brigade in an other called Springfield. We were put into the houses with the inhabitants. A fine addition we were, doubtless, to their families, but as we were so plentifully furnished with necessities, especially in the article of food, we could not have been burdensome to them, as will soon appear.
I think it necessary before I proceed further, to prevent much repetition, to give some information of the nature and kind of duty we had to perform while here, that the reader may form a clearer idea of the hardships we had to encounter in the discharge of our it. Well, then, I shall speak only of the First Brigade, as I belonged to that. As to the Second, I know no more of it than that those who belonged to it doubtless had as hard duty and hard times as we had in the First. I say, as I belonged to the First Brigade, I shall endeavor to describe some of the hardships and troubles we had to contend with.
We were stationed about six miles from Elizabethtown, which is situated near the waters which separate Staten Island from the main. We had to send a detachment to this place which continued on duty there several days; it consisted of about two hundred men, and had to form several guards while there. We had another guard, which consisted of about one hundred men, at a place called Woodbridge; this guard stayed there tow days before they were relieved, and was ten miles from our quarters. Woodbridge also lay by the same waters. We likewise kept a quarter guard in every regiment at home, besides the other small guards.
Our duty all the winter and spring was thus. Suppose I went upon the Woodbridge guard. I must march from the parade at eight o'clock in the morning, go a distance of ten miles and relieve the guard already there, which would commonly bring it to about twelve o'clock; stay there two days and two nights, then be relieved and take up the afternoon of that day to reach our quarters at Westfield, where, as soon as I could get into my quarters, and generally before I could lay by my arms, warned for Elizabethtown the next day. Thus it was the whole time we lay here, which was from the middle of February to the latter part of May following. It was Woodbridge and Elizabethtown, Elizabethtown and Woodbridge, alternately, till I was absolutely sick of hearing the names mentioned.
And now I will relate some of the incidents and accidents that occurred during this very pleasant tour, that is, as far as I was concerned.
The first thing I shall mention is on that has so very seldom been heard of by the reader, that, it may be, he has forgotten it. I mean, we had next to nothing to eat. As I have just before observed, we had no wheat flour, all the breadstuff we got was Indian corn meal and Indian corn flour. Our Connecticut yankees were as ignorant of making this meal or flour as a wild Indian would be of making pound cake. All we had any idea of doing with it was to make hasty pudding, and sometimes, though rarely, we would chance to get a little milk, or, perhaps, a little cider, or some such thing to wash it down with; and when we could get nothing to qualify it, we ate it as it was. The Indian flur was much worse than the meal, being so fine it was as clammy as glue, and as insipid as starch. We were glad to get even this, for nothing else could be had. Flesh meat was nearly as scarce as wheaten bread; we had but very little of the former and not any of the latter. There was not the least thing to be obtained from the inhabitants, they being so near the enemy, and many of them seemed to be as poor as ourselves.
The guard kept at Woodbridge, being so small, and so far from the troops, and so near the enemy that they were obliged to be constantly on the alert. We had three different houses that we occupied alternately during the night: The first was an empty house, the second the parson's house, and the third a farmers house. We had to remove form on the other of these houses three times every night, form fear of being surprised by the enemy.
There was no trusting of the inhabitants, for many of them were friendly to the British, and we did not know who were or who were not, and consequently, were distrustful of them all, unless it were one or two. The parson was a staunch Whig, as the friends of the country were called in those times, and the farmer, mentioned before, was another, and perhaps more that we were not acquainted with. Be that as it would, we were shy of trusting them. Here, especially in the night, we were obliged to keep about one half of the guard upon sentry, and besides these, small patrolling parties on all the roads leading towards the enemy. They exerted themselves more than common to take some of our guards, because we had challenged them to do it, and had bid them defiance.
I was once upon this guard; it was in the spring, after the snow had gone off the ground. Myself and another young man took for our tour of duty to patrol upon a certain road during the night. About midnight or a little after, our guard being than at the farmers house, which was the farthest back from the water's side of any of the houses we occupied; this distanced caused some of our sentinels to be three miles from the guard. We patrolled from the guard to the farthest sentries which were two (or in the military phrase, a double sentinel) who were standing upon a bridge. After we had visited these sentinels and were returning, we passed the parson's house. There was a muddy plash in the road nearly opposite the house, and as it happened, the man with me passed on the side next to the house and I passed on the other. After we had got clear of the water and had come together again, he told me there were British soldiers lying in the garden and dooryard. I asked him if was sure of it; he said he was, for, said he, " I was near enough to have reached them with my hand, had there been no fence between."
We stopped and consulted what was best for us to do. I was for going back and giving them a starter, but my comrade declined; he thought it would be best to return to the guard and inform the officers what we had discovered, and let them act their pleasure. We accordingly did so, when the captain of the guard sent down two horsemen that attended upon the guard to serve in such circumstances and to carry and fetch intelligence, to ascertain whether it was as we had reported. The horsemen, finding it true, instead of returning and informing the officers, as they were ordered to, fired their carbines, one into the house, the ball lodging in the bedpost where the parson and his wife were in bed, and the other into the garden or dooryard. The British, finding they were discovered, walked off with themselves without even returning a single shot. We were sorry then that we had not given them a loving salute as we passed them, and thus saved the horsemen the trouble. This was one among of the sly methods the British took to surprise and take our guards.
At another time I was upon the Elizabethtown station. Being one night on my post as sentinel, I observed a stir among the troops composing the detachment. I inquired the cause, of a passing officer, who told me the British were upon Halstead's Point, which was a point of land about two miles from the main body of the detachment, where we had a guard consisting of a sergeant, a corporal, and ten privates. The circumstances were as follows. The guard informed the man of the house where the guard was kept ( a Mr. Halstead, owner of the land that formed the point) that they had heard boats pass and repass at some distance below, during the night. He said they were British, and had landed some of the Refugees, as that neighborhood abounded with such sort of cattle, but that it would be next to impossible to detect them, as they had so many friends in that quarter, and many of the enemy belonging to those parts they knew every lurking place in all the neighboring country; the only way was for the guard was to be vigilant and prevent a surprise. When the guard was relieved in the morning, the new one was informed of these circumstances and informed to be on the lookout.
Accordingly at night, they consulted with Mr. Halstead, who advised them to place a sentinel at a certain spot that had been neglected, for, said he, "they know your situation better than you do yourselves, and if they come, they will enter your precincts by the way I have pointed out to you, and," continued he, "they will come about the time of the setting of the moon."
Agreeable to his advice, the sergeant stationed a sentinel at that place, and prepared for them. Just as been predicted, about the time the moon was setting, which was about ten o'clock, they came, and at the same point. The first sentinel that occupied that post had not stood out his trick before he saw them coming. He immediately hailed them by the usual question, " Who comes there?" They answered him, that if he would not discharge his piece they would not hurt him, but if he did they would kill him. The sentinel, being true to his trust, paid no regard to their threats, but fired his piece and ran for the house to alarm the guard. In his way he had to cross a hedge fence, in passing which he got entangled in the bushes, as it was supposed, and the enemy coming up thrust a bayonet through him. They then inflicted twelve more wounds upon him with bayonets, and rushed on for the house to massacre the remainder of the guard, but they had taken the alarm and left the house. The Refugees, for such they were, entered the house, but found none of the men to murder. Mr. Halstead had two young daughters in the house, one of which secreted herself in a closet and remained throughout the whole transaction undiscovered. The other they caught and compelled to light a candle and attend them about the house in search of the Rebels, but without finding any, or offering any other abuse to the young lady (which was indeed a wonder).
When they could find none to wreak their vengeance upon, they cut open knapsacks of the guard and strewed the Indian meal about the floor, laughing at the poverty of the Yankee soldiery who had nothing but hog's fodder, as they termed it, to eat. After they had done all the mischief they could in the house, they proceeded to the barn and drove off five or six head of Mr. Halstead's young cattle, took them down upon the point and killed them, and went off in their boats, that had come across from the island for that purpose, to their den among the British.
There was another young man belonging to the guard, on his post at the extremity of the point. When the Refugees came down to embark, they cut off this man's retreat, there being a sunken marsh on each side of the point, covered with dry flags and reeds. When he challenged them, they answered him the same as they did the other sentinel. But he paid as little attention to their threats as the other had done, although, apparently, in a much worse situation, but fired his musket and sprang into the marsh among the reeds, where he sunk to his middle in the mud, and there remained unperceived , till they went off, and thus preserved his life.
Such maneuvers the British continued to exhibit the whole time we were stationed here, but could never do any other damage to us than killing poor Twist (the name of the young man). Unfortunate young man! I could not restrain my tears, when I saw him nest day, with his breast like a sieve, caused by the wounds. He lost his own life by endeavoring to save the lives of others; massacred by his own countrymen, who ought to have been fighting in the common cause of the country instead of murdering him.


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I recommend also Captain John Outwater's Co. of Bergen county Militia web page.


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