The ambush of Geary's Dragoons.From Fact to Fantasy The British 16th Light Dragoons and the Raid on Flemington, New Jersey, December 14, 1776.


Written by Gilbert Riddle, once of the 2nd New Jersey Regiment ( now moved to the Carolina's)


This is taken from an article in the "Brigade Dispatch" , a publication of the Brigade of the American Revolution, vol. xx111 no. 4 Autumn 1992 page 18-26. I have shortened it very slightly, removing some background material from the beginning...I use it as a good example of a small unit action, of which there were a huge number, most hardly known. It is also a good example of how a story can change and grow over the years.   

reprinted by permission of the author and the Dispatch. All rights are reserved!  Photos below are mine.



One of the interesting things about local historical events is that stories sometimes take on a life of their own. In some instances the people involved take on mythical proportions. With each retelling of the tale the "facts" are stretched and the sources become ever more vague, thus sliding into the realm of local legend and lore.

Such an event took place in West Jersey, amongst the rolling and wooded hills of Hunterdon County between the small villages of Flemings-Town (Flemington) and Ringoes on December 14th, 1776. This brief but tragically bloody action occurred along a lonely rural road skirted with trees between Copper Hill and Larison's Corner. The actual event was an ambush of a file of eight British troopers of the 16th (Queen's) Light Dragoons under the command of Cornet Francis Geary.


Francis Geary was the "eldest son of Admiral Francis Geary and Mary Bartholomew... born at Polesden, Great Bookham Surrey, baptized on March 15th, 1752 and educated at Balliol College, Oxford."1 He had three sisters and one brother. "Mary, ...born... in 1749. In 1750 Judith was born... and Elizabeth in 1754... William in 1756."2

When looking to start his military career Francis Geary chose the illustrious 16th Light Dragoons, also known as the Queen's LightDragoons, under the Colonelcy of General lohn Burgoyne. He obtained the rank of Cornet on March 4, 1773.3 He was twenty-one years old when the Cornetcy was purchased for him.4

In 1775, the unit received an order which would eventually lead Cornet Geary into harms way: "War Office 12th Septr. 1775 ...The King having been pleased to order the 16th /or Queen's/ Regiment of /Lightl Dragoons,... to embark for North America, in the ensuing Spring... 6

When the 16th Regiment of Light Dragoons was re-organized for service in America it took on the following form:

Six Troops, in which are: I Colonel. 1 LieutenantColonel. 1 Major. 3 Captains. 1 Captain-Lieutenant. 5 Lieutenants. 12 Cornets. 1 Chaplain. 1 Adjutant. 1 Surgeon. 1 Surgeon's-Mate. 6 Ouarter-Masters. 18 Serjeants. 8 Trumpeters. 408 Light-Dragoons, Rank and File, Mounted and Dismounted. In Each Troop are: 1 Captain. 1 Lieutenant. 1 Cornet. 1 OuarterMaster. 2 Serjeants. 2 Corporals. 1 Trumpeter. 1 Farrier. 34 Dragoons. 40 Horses. Exclusive of the Officers and Ouarter-Master's Horses.7

The 16th and the 17th Light Dragoons would be the only British mounted units to see service in the war. Both were heavily augmented for service in North America, by drafting from other units on both the Irish and the English Establishments as well as by recruiting. Upon the units' arrival in North America much would be expected of them, even though the terrain features, roadways and paths, and the dispersed nature of the local villages would limit their effectiveness. "Of the Particular Duties on which Light Cavalry are to be Employed. They are to be employed in reconnoitering the enemy, and discovering his motions: and as often as officers are detached on such commands, all that will be required of them, is, to make theirobservations with certainty, so as not to deceive the commanding off'cer afterwards by false intelligence: they are also on such parties to avoid engaging with the enemy, as being sent out for a different purpose. Light Cavalry are also to be made use of for distant advanced posts, to prevent the army from being falsely alarmed, or surprised by the enemy."8 Actual combat would be far more grueling and demanding for the dragoons than had been anticipated. Captain Thomas Stanley of the 17th writes:

Perth Amboy... I had a Dragoon of my Troop killed. The Service the Dragoons are now employed on is very harasing & a very Dangerous one we patrol the Roads & carry expresses from Post to Post, neither of which Duty we can scarse even perform without being Shot at I have within these Ten Days a Man & horse killed another Man Wounded & his horse Shot dead under him,... My Lieut: has likewise been shot through the thigh I got a ball through my Great coat. they pick oflf] a good many of us in this shabby Method, but it makes the Rest Soldiers twice as fast as any Drilling in time of Peace.9

The unit arrived in North America during the latter part of September and early October of 1776.10 As the British army crossed over the Hudson we see that by the 18th of November "a detachment of the 16th Light Dragoons, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Harcourt was sent over to Fort Lee. This detachment... scoured the country on the 22d, as far as Pisaick river, and had found the enemy had abandoned all the intermediate country."11 The further movements of the Dragoons during that fateful autumn can be sketched by following the movements of the British Army through the lower counties of New York and those of New Jersey:

Camp at New Bridge Jerseys Novr. 23 1776 Lt. Col. Harcourt commanded a reconnoitring Party of Dragoons and L[igh]t Infantry yesterday. We penetrated 12 Miles into the country to Aquaknack where we found the Rebels posted. We alarmed them, cut a few Sentrys down and saw their Position; their Numbers were about [?]. We then retreated without any Loss or Wound except one Horses Ear. More Troops are coming from Genl. Howe and we expect a Stroke of some Consequence every Hour. Genl. Washington trembles for Philadelphia: it is now latein the year but no Talk of Winter Ouarters. Great Courage animates all the British Troops.12

Head Quarters Aquacanack 27th November 1776 General Orders The 16th Light Dragoons, 1st and 2nd Battalions Light Infantry are [to] march immediately under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Harcourt to take post at the Second River.13

On December 1, 1776, orders came from Head Quarters that the

16th Dragoons... with four days forage will march tomorrow as early as possible to Denys's Ferry, where boats will be ready to receive and Land them on Staten Island, from whence they will immediately March to Elizabeth Town, where they are to put themselves under Lieutenant General Earl Cornwallis's Command till further orders.14

With this order the number of days left for Cornet Francis Geary become few. His, however, would not be the first blood drawn from the unit; the troop return submitted by General Howe for the period September 17 to November 16, listed for the 16th Regiment of Light Dragoons, "One Sergeant, one rank and file, one horse, wounded, one rank and file missing."15

As the British forces moved across New Jersey their progress was not hindered by organized resistance, but individuals and small groups of British were beset by local militia forces. General Howe saw before him the tattered remains of the forces under General Washington; looking to his long exposed line of communications leading back to New York City he saw General Lee as a threat to his security, as that infamous character hovered about him to the north. Amidst these varied concerns he had to deal with the plague of local militia which were effective in reducing his force. Accordingly he issued the following order, which if known to the local militia of Hunterdon County may have caused some to shutter in fear for the course of action they would take:

Head Quarters Trentown 12th of December 1776. Small stragling parties, not dressed like Soldiers and without Officers, not being admissable in War, who presume to Molest or fire upon Soldiers, or peaceable Inhabitants of the Country, will be immediatelyhanged without Tryal as Assassins.16

Elements of the British Light Infantry and 16th Light Dragoons found themselves encamped in Penny-Town, New Jersey. A file of 8 British light dragoons moved out from there towards Flemington on December 14th, 1776.

The actual events of the raid on Flemington and the ensuing skirmish near Ringoes were recounted by Schanck before the Court of Common Pleas of the County of Hunterdon at Flemington. He relates:

There was at that time some British [at] Pennyton,... went the next day down as far as New Market (5 miles above Pennington)... got information that some of the British light horse were coming up the next day to Flemington... where Colonel Thomas Lowery then a commissary had a large quantity of beef and pork salted down for the army. IJon Schanck] retumed with the information to his father and uncle Garret Schanck and that night Captain John Schanck retumed from Pennsylvania to his family and got the infomlation and they selected a few men... The next moming a Comet and 8 light horsemen came up past Ringoes and went up to Flemington found that the beef and pork was there and returned to meet a part of about 500 troops of the British that planned that day to come up and take these provisions, by that time there was 8 men - deponent's father, Esq. Abm. Prall, Capt. John Schenck, Jacob Schenck, William Vansyckie and deponent and two others who had collected and stationed themselves by the road side in a wood about 5 miles below Flemington, in the afternoon the light horse came back and the militia fired on them as they passed and killed the officer - a Cornet, his name "Frederick Geary" was engraved on a silver plate on his cap which deponent got and his shoes, Cpt. Jno. Schenck got his sword, and Wm. Vansyckle his watch, when he fell his horsemen fired on the militia and whirled out of the road and took a course across the far ns toward Somerset and the cornets horse followed them. After sunset the British came along and a little past where the officer was killed they stopped at a farm house (Matthias Housels) to inquire of them had been any light horse along, he told them the officer was killed a little below, they made him get a lantem and go back to the place where they found the blood, they interogated him and he told them fictictous stories of Washington's having crossed the Delaware and there being a great many of the militia about and that alammed them, and the regiment wheeled about and marched directly off towards Somerset without going on to Flemington and the provisions were left untouched.17

Later that day "Geary's body was buried in the woods."18 It is related that Cornet Geary was shot in the center of the forehead and fell from his mount, mortally wounded. His body was stripped "of valuables and uniform and hastily covered... up with leaves."19

Geary's clothing was hidden by those who had slain him, in fear of their being discovered. His red "coat was secreted under some wheat that lay piled on the floor, of the garret. In another, his boots were hid in an oven. His watch went to Flemington..."20

The death of Francis Geary is mentioned in letters and journals written by fellow British officers. Ensign Thomas Glyn, of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, records in his journal:

a party of Light Dragoons having Cornet Geary... was detached from Trenton beyond Pennington, to gain intelligence... Comet Geary was killed early in the Moming by some straglers of the enemy in Ambuscade.21

An interesting letter by a British officer provides some details of the day's events:

New York, January 8, 1777. I am sorry to inform you of the Death of Cornet Geary (Son of Admiral Geary) of Burgoyne's Light-Dragoons. He had been ut with a small Party to Flemming-Town, and on his Retum in passing through a hollow Way by the Side of a Wood, he was told, that a Rebel was levelling at him on a Rail; he leaned forward on his Horse to escape the Shot, but unfortunately received that or some other, (for a Volley was Fired) in his Forehead, and fell Dead from his Horse. The Dragoons Fired two Rounds, and attempted to bring off the Body, but the Villains kept within Cover, and being many in Number, kept a Constant Fire, so that the Dragoons were fain to retum without the Body of the unfortunate young Gentleman.22

Lieutenant-Colonel Harcourt expressed his regrets tersely to Geary's father:

Brunswick, 18 December 1776... It is with infinite reluctance I find myself under the very disagreeable necessity of communicating to you an event which much I am persuaded must give you the utmost concern. Mr. Geary having been ordered to advance with a party some miles in to the Country to provide intelligence of the Enemy's situation was upon his retum from that duty fired upon by a party of the rebels who had concealed themselves on each side of the road by which he proposed to have passed: unfortunately a ball took place which in one moment deprived you of a son and the Regiment of an offcer whose loss cannot be sufficiently lamented.23

General Burgoyne, Colonel of the 16th, also offered condolences to Admiral Geary:

I have seldom felt a pain so acute as that of communicating to you the news from America, which personally regards yourself. I am afraid my authority is too good. Your Son has met a Soldier's fate.
Experienced in calamity, describes what it is to resign an object near the heart, and ho[w] poor our best fortitude is upon such trial I am unfit to comfort or exhort you. Time and reflection can alone relieve you: I wish therefore only add to the tears of the Corps. My private lamentations for the Son of an invaluable parent and the assurance of the respect I have bear to his memory

The universal regret of this young offcer's death is perhaps best expressed by an anonymous verse, presumably written for his family:

On the death of Cornet Geary killed in a skirmish with the Provincials.

Martial ardour fired his heart
Patriot love Britain's weal
Geary, luckless youth Expressed
Martyr to heroic zeal.

Every grace adomed his frame
Every virtue decked his mind
Mar's approved his early fame
And a chosen band consigned.

Death in treacherous Rebel's shape
Aimed the sad the fatal blow
Cowards way by flight escape
Geary dying faces his foe.

The death of Cornet Francis Geary is mentioned in British general orders: ~Head Quarters New York 25th December 1776... The Commander in Chief is pleased to make the following Promotions. 16th Regiment Light Dragoons. Mr. Patrick Cannon Quarter Master to be Cornet vice Geary killed ~ 14th December 76.26 In the annual Army Lists for 1776, "Killed" appears next to his name.27 At the time of his death he was twenty four years old, and a Cornet in the 16th Light Dragoons for three years and nine months.

However, the story does not end at this point. As the years went by the primary accounts began to become embellished. The story not only became rooted in local county tradition, but even becarne part of several British histories dealing with the American Revolution. The various secondary accounts make interesting reading, and seem to have their origins with Elias Vosseller, the first corresponding secretary of the Hunterdon County Historical Society. The following account was published in 1869 or 1870 and provides the reader with some insight as to how the story expanded, in detail and content. It is unfortunate that the rich detail is without any primary source accreditability.

The British Raid on Flemington.
In this store [owned by Thomas Lowrey], a quantity of muskets were placed during the Revolution. When the British occupied Trenton in 1778 [sic, 1776], five hundred Horsemen marched up towards Flemington, bent upon plunder. On reaching Pennington they found that the Americans werewatching their movements, and concluded to send forward a small body of men to reconnoitre. These were Light-Horsemen, under the command of Cornet Francis Geary. They passed up the road to Ringoes, and finding the way clear, proceeded on to Flemington. Here they met with no resistance. The stillness of death seemed to pervade the whole line of march. But few men were to be seen, and these were about their peaceful avocations. The lowing of kine, the occasional barking of a dog and the shrill clarion of the morning's earliest trumpeter, were the only sounds that they heard as they entered the village. Riding down Main street till they came to Lowery's storehouse, they dismounted, some of the party holding the horses while the others broke open the door and carried out the arms. The original intent was, had the main body come up, to have carried away the chests. After placing the King's seal upon the building, each man took as many guns as he could carry, and they proceeded down the road as rapidly as their load would allow. When they had reached Tattersall's lane, about a mile below the Court House, they began to feel alarmed, and dismounting, broke the arms they had stolen, by striking them over the gate post. They then rode on exulting with the expectation that the way was clear, and hoping in a few hours to pilot their companions at Pennington over the road they had traversed and reap rich booty from the farmers of old Amwell. But in this they were doomed to a serious disappointment.

Cornet Geary, British Leader, Killed.
The little company had to pass through a thick forest from Copper Hill to what is now Larison's Corner. After the party had left Ringoes in the moming Capt. John Schenck collected all of the men and ammunition to be found in the neighborhood, and passing quietly through the woods to a point in the road about a mile and a half above Larison's the party secreted themselves among the trees and awaited the coming of the British. As they approached, a single shot was fired, but the horsemen proceeded. A whole volley was then fired, and the Amwell men ran from tree to tree shouting as though a whole army were in the woods. The leader of the Light Horse now formed his men in a line and retumed the fire. But one of the Americans, aiming at Geary, shot him in the center of the forehead, when he reeled and fell to the ground, mortally wounded. His cowardly followers now wheeled and fled towards Flemington, and left their leader Iying in the road. The party in the woods took the body, stripped it of valuables and uniform and hastily covered it up with leaves. The party now scattered and went toward their homes.28

The next account was published in 1878 and we see the story beginning to shift again in certain aspects of content and detail. This variant to the story is more dramatic and heroic than the actual account of the event as told by John Schenck, but does not rest on known primary sources; several new factors appear.

...the British learned that a lot of guns were stored in Flemington. A part of Cornwallis' army was then encamped just below Pennington. Five hundred cavalry were detailed to seize these arms. At that time, near the Presbyterian church was a long low frame building. For many years afterwards it was a store famous throughout that part of the county [Hunterdon]. It afforded a market for wheat to a wide section. The store was kept in connection with a mill, on the site of John Rockafellow's mill. In this building a quantity of muskets had been stored by the Continentals. The cavalry reached the village early in the moming, and found in the street a man with a cart, whom they pressed into their service. The chests, with the guns packed in them, were taken out of the building and put into the cart, and then the whole troop hastened away. But when they reached Tattersall's Lane,... they became alarmed, and concluded it would be better to destroy the muskets than attempt to carry them away, so they broke the guns by striking them upon the posts of the fence.
In the mean time Capt. John Schenck had collected a band of men and secreted them in a piece of woods between Copper Hill and Larason's. As the horsemen fled through this they were fired upon. Capt. Geary, the commander of the British, ordered his troops to halt and face the spot whence the firing proceeded, when he was almost immediately shot through the head. His men wheeled and fled. Afraid that they might meet more opposition if they retumed by the same road they came, the British turned and went towards New Brunswick. Capt. Geary's body was buried in the woods.29

Another secondary account of the event was published in 1894, and relates

...the British learned that a supply of guns was stored in Flemington. A part of Comwallis's army was then encamped near Pennington.
At the opening of the Revolution, [there] was along, low frame building,... For many years it was a store, famous in all these parts. It afforded a market for wheat to a wide section of the county... The store was kept by Thomas Lowrey, in connection with a mill... In this storehouse a quantity of muskets was placed by the Continentals.
The commander at Pennington suspected that Flemington was to be made a rendezvous, and that these muskets were held for the purpose of arming the militia. To thwart this measure, he detailed Cornet Geary, with about twenty men, to seize the guns. The troops passed through Ringoes early in the morning of December 14th, 1776. Captain John Schenck, who was home on a visit, saw them; and believing that they would retum that way, aroused the neighbors, and prepared for an attack. In what was then a small woods between Copper Hill and Larison's Corner, on the east side of the road... he secreted his men. Ammunition was scarce, and tradition relates that the men and women moulded bullets that morning for the muskets. Meanwhile Cornet Geary had reached Flemington, where he found a man with a cart. He ordered the man to take his cart, and show the way to the storehouse. The chests, in which the guns were packed, were put into the cart, and the troops hastened away. Tradition relates that Geary saw a rnan on Mullins Hill, who was Colonel Lowrey, evidently reconnoitering; and on inquiry was told that just beyond the hill a body of troops was encamped. This was a military lie, but it had the effect to hasten Geary's departure. He soon found that these boxes impeded their progress too much for safety, so that when they reached Tattersall's Lane... they concluded it was better to destroy the muskets, which they did by breaking the stocks, and bending the barrels. When they reached the ambush, where Captain Schenck and his men were concealed, Schenck called out, ~First line fire and fall back.; again, ~Second line fire and fall back. ~ Geary ordered his men to halt and retum the fire. Almost at the first fire he was struck by a bullet in the forehead, and fell from his horse. His men turned and fled. Captain Schenck and his men stripped the body, taking the hat (which was a high leather hat, with a plume), and coat and boots, and hastily buried the body, about two hundred yards east of the encounter. The grave was marked by two stones, and the owners of the land did not disturb the spot. It had been questioned for years whether the body had been removed, or was left in the grave. To decide this, a committee, appointed by the Hunterdon County Historical Society, opened the grave in May, 1891. They found traces of clothing, parts of buttons, and of bones. The tops of four srnall silver buttons, which had evidently been the buttons on the Cornet's jacket, were found in such good preservation, that the letters Q.L.D. and the figure 16 were easily traced. Inquiry has shown that these mean, ~The Queen's Light Dragoons, 16th Regiment. ~ This was a famous regiment of the British army of that period. Also from the British army list of that time, it has been leamed that General Howe promoted ~Patrick Cannon, Commissary, to be Cornet in place of Francis Geary, killed December 14th, 1776.. (I am indebted to Elias Vosseller, of Flemington, for these facts.)30

And finally, an account orally presented to the New Jersey State Historical Society:

The Hunterdon County Historical Society was represented by the Rev. Dr. George S. Mott and Mr. Vossler, the latter of whom remarked:

Perhaps you remember the story of the raid on our town. It was towards the close of 1778 [sic, 1776], when 500 of the enemy left Trenton for that purpose. At Penningtoo they began to fear there might be trouble with some of Washington's forces, and so sent about twenty horses under Cornet Geary to spy out the situation. They found a few muskets in Col. Thomas Lowery's store, which they took, but were driven off by the following clever ruse: At a conspicuous point on the hill west of the town, Col. Lowery was seen on horseback, apparently reconnoitering. Geary seeing him demanded of a bystander what it meant, and was told that beyond the hill there was a large body of troops. Geary said ~If that is so, we had better be going.. So he placed the King's seal upon the door of the store house and departed. They carried the muskets about a half mile, and finding them cumbersome, bent and broke them over a fence... Geary's party was attacked on his retreat about four miles south of Flemington by the farmers of that neighborhood, Geary himself killed. His party fled, and by roundabout ways reached Trenton.31

The story made its way back across the Atlantic and surfaced in several books dealing with the American War for Independence. The one by Otto Trevelyan blends in the raid on Flemington with the capture of General Charles Lee, an error that may have originated with the reference given by Ensign Glyn of the Foot Guards. Trevelyan relates:
Harcourt had near thirty miles to travel... and the Whigs, in the townships through which he passed on his way to Baskingridge, had risen in arms behind him. During the retum joumey, his Cornet was shot dead from the saddle by the gun of a Jersey farmer; but Harcourt allowed nothing to divert or delay him until he had securely lodged his man within the British lines at Pennington.32

Trevelyan goes on to include the following footnote in true Edwardian style:

[Note]2 During more than a century afterwards local tradition pointed to a spot by the roadside where this young officer was said to have been hastily buried. In 1891 the grave was opened, and regimental buttons of the Sixteenth Light Dragoons were found amid the mould.33

It seems as though the source of this information was Stryker, of whom Trevelyan had a high opinion, calling him "a professional soldier, and a skilled examiner of records."34

Trevelyan's mistake was carried forward by Bellamy Partridge in his light weight biography entitled Sir Billy Howe, were he states that

... [the dragoons'] coming had been observed by a number of rebel sympathizers who were waiting in ambush with squirrel rifles for them to return.
A number of shots were exchanged with the local population as the cavalcade went thundering along the country roads, but only one dragoon was picked off. This was the cornet of the detachment, whose body was buried by the roadside, and from whose grave regimental buttons of the 16th British Light Dragoons were removed as recently as 1891, according to Trevelyan, who gives no authority for the statement.35

Although the circumstances of Geary's death were garbled by successive accounts, Trevelyan was correct is his statement about the gravesite. Even in death Cornet Francis Geary was not left alone, as we see in the following:

The grave of the British regular is still marked by two rough stones. It is related that his companions returned the next night and compelled a farmer of the neighborhood to show them the grave, from which they took the body, placing it in a coffin they had brought, and putting the coffin across two horses, camed him to Trenton, from which place he was shipped to England in a cask of whiskey. This story is denied by others, who claim that the grave was never disturbed. Our Society [The Hunterdon County Historical Society] has received permission from the owner of the land to open the grave, in hope of finding a coin or button, and thus settling the matter, and a committee has been appointed for that purpose.36

The results were as follows:

...a committee of the Hunterdon County Historical Society a few days ago opened the grave of Cornet Francis Geary, who, in the latter part of the year 1776, with about twenty soldiers raided Flemington, and was killed and buried by the farmers. Several buttons, marked ~Q.L.D. 16~, were exhibited, which were taken from his grave. His scarf, boots, spurs, hat and watch were taken from his body before its burial, and were known to be in possession of descendants of those who buried him.
Gen. Stryker, who presided during the afternoon session, stated that ~Q.L.D 16,~ meant the 16th regiment, Queen's Light Dragoons, which was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William Harcourt.37

One can surmise that these buttons were from his waistcoat since we know that Geary's coat was taken off of his lifeless body shortly after the conclusion of the ambush.

Being somewhat unsatisfied with the incomplete nature of the above account I began to search further and came up with a more detailed report of what transpired that day.

A Committee was appointed to examine the grave of Lt. Geary, located near the skirmish site on the road between Ringoes and Copper Hill. Reports had circulated for years about the circumstances of Geary's death and burial and it was deemed time to ascertain the facts. Dr. Larison, E.M. Heath and Elias Vosseller agreed to examine the grave and report back at the next meeting. May 18th, [ 1891] at 10 a.m. was the date fixed to open the grave and note its contents.
The Committee and other interested persons- A.L. Case on whose property the burial site was located... met at the gravesite at the appointed time. The grave was opened to the depth of 2 1/2 feet where the thigh and other bones were found and the silver buttons from his vest bearing the figure '16' and the letters 'QLD' signifying the 16th Regiment, Queens Light Dragoons. Other pieces of bones, a number of teeth, some bits of cloth were found. He had been buried laying on his right side with [his] face to the south. No ball was found in the skull or the grave. Perhaps that is evidence to bear out the tradition which said the ball entered Geary's forehead and passed entirely through his head. The Committee removed from the grave the silver tops of four buttons. Filings were taken from them and forwarded to the Liberty Bell Committee.38

These buttons are apparently still in the possession of the Hunterdon County Historical Society.39 What of the other artifacts from Geary's uniform? Their fate is remarkable and distressing today, and can only be understood in the context of the values of the rural inhabitants of the area:

The sash was of a beautiful crimson color. It was ravelled out and the young girls of the neighborhood used the thread for various ornamental purposes. The hat, of stiff leather, was used by a farmer, to dip oats from his feed bin for his horses. The handle of his sword was made into teaspoons.40

Meanwhile, as the years went by, the area of the ambush took on an interesting reputation:

The officer was buried in the woods near the present road from Flemington to Larison's Corner... Two rough, unlettered stones mark the spot. It is not many years since the woods have been cut away. Before this happened, the spot was a place of terror after night. Strange noises have often been heard, and on more than one occasion men have fled screaming to the nearest dwelling, declaring that they heard the British Regular's groans. Others have seen him stallcing through the forest, in full uniform, mounted upon a white horse, and the blood streaming from his forehead. There is also a tradition that flowers were seen upon his grave for many years, strewn there by an unknown hand, and once a lady's form and dress were seen in the distance among the trees as though she were fearful of discovery and flying from the approach of those who would learn her secret of her presence there.

Hugh Capner, Esq., of this town [FIemington], says that when he was a young man and rode past Geary's grave after night, the first questions he would be asked on arriving in Flemington, was ~Whether he'd seen anything of Geary?. And this became the uniform question put to all those who traveled that way after night.41

Another writer relates:

A gentleman living near the spot was startled one night by having some one rush into his house without warning, and seeing he was much frightened, said, ~Friend, what's the matter?~ ~Oh," he replied, "I tried to go but couldn't. Oh, there's such a noise down where the reg'lar was killed. The ground shakes so I can't go.. The gentleman, amused at his terror, agreed to go with him to the place. As they went the mystery was explained by hearing a bull making his usual low grumble, boo-woo-wooh. "Hark,- said the frightened man. ~That,. said the gentleman, "is Mr. Blank's bull." ~That's no bull,. said the other in tones of terror. ~Oh, yes it is, listen again.. By that time they reached the spot and the gentleman said, ~Now if anything attacks you so you can't go, you must hallo and if anything interrupts me so I can't go, I will hallo.. ~You'll have to holler quick,~ said the other in a trembling voice, "for I shall go off very fast.~ And away he went at full speed.42

To this day the local area still retains its reputation for being haunted, but no one has stepped forward with ghostly tales of sightings of Cornet Geary out and about in the evening.

The story has one final segment that proves to be of interest in binding the events of the past centuries with that of the present century. "Geary's family never forgot what is recorded in their church records, and depicted in a plaque on the church wall as "the battle of Fleming-ton.~ The victim, after all, was the eldest son and heir of the baronet."43

"In 1975, Mr. Morris Snellsgrove of the Leatherhead District Historical Society, Surrey [U.K.], contacted the Flemington borough council to inform them of the existence of the bas-relief in St. Nicholas Church, Surrey.44 The bas-relief has a weeping Britannia leaning over the bust of Cornet Francis Geary. In the background is her shield, flags, and other military objects. Geary is in uniform, bust length. His face is quite fleshy, almost giving the appearance of portliness. Below these two we see the depiction of the event, a number of men lurking in the woods along the roadside, a horse rearing, the slain rider falling to the ground.

In 1907 Cornet Geary's great-nephew, Sir William Nevill M. Geary, located the burial site and placed a memorial stone there, a few fields east of today's Route 202-31, not far from the Flemington State Police Barracks.45 This memorial stone replaced two rough, unlettered stones which had previously marked the spot.

John Schanck lived to a ripe and full old age, being laid to rest with all the care a loving family could render while Cornet Francis Geary was hastily dumped on his right side into a shallow unmarked grave amongst the woods along a lonely stretch of dirt road. His was a tragic end to a life so rich in expectation, estates and titles and the fullness of years cut short by a single shot to the forehead.

This story illustrates the way in which an actual event can grow beyond reality. From simple details like the number of dragoons involved, to the dramatic account of the small band of British dragoons halting by the roadside to destroy captured muskets by smashing them over fence posts, we see embellishment of the straightforward primary accounts. Such interesting anomalies make for interesting and exciting research regardless of the outcome.


[There is a site with a photo of Geary's memorial in Scotland and other data-silverwhistle.

(Below are some pictures of Geary's grave site)



1. Kalbleen J Schreiner. 'That December Day Near Larison's Corner, 1776. Cornet Francis Geary lost a baronetcy... and his life.. Hunterdon Historical Newsletter, Volume 13, No. I (Hunterdon County Historical Society, Winter 1977, p. 6.

2. Ibid, p. 6.

3. W O 65, Army List 1774, IND 5467 p. 47. Public Records Office (PRO), London

4. The regulated price for the Cornetcy was set per the following memorandum: "War Office Feb. 9, 1773 Dragoon... Cornet... 1, 102 Pounds.. Thomas Simes, A Military Guide for Young Officers (London, 1781), p. 293. A Cornet's pay per year wouid be meager, but would be augmented with bat and forage money, and divided into "Subsistence -109 Pounds: 10 Shillingr: 0 Pence [,] Arrears -26 Pounds: 15 Shillings and 8 Pence [,] Total per annum 136 Pound: 5 Shillings, 8 Pence ~ Capt Robert Hinde. The Discipline of the Light Horse (London, 1778), p. 552.

6. W.O. 4/94, MSS p. 321-322. PRO.

7. Hinde, op. cit., p. 542-543.

8. Hinde, op. cit, p. 147.

9. Stephen Conway. "British Army Officers and the American War for Independence", The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series, Vol. XLI No. 2 ( April 1984), p. 273. Also found under MS Am. 228.5, Boston Public Library.

10. General Howe to Lord George Germaine, "New York, November 30 1776... The part of the 16th Light Dragoons that arrived with Lieut. Col Harcourt on the 3d [October]... (one transport still being missing)... joined the army on the 20th" Peter Force, American Archives: 5th Series A documentary History of the USA... Vol. III(Washington, 1853), p. 922.

11. Ibid., p. 955.

12. Richard M. Ketchum, ed. "New War letters of Banastre Tarleton.. Narratives of the Revolution in New York. A Collection of Articles from The New York Historical Society Quarterly (Kingsport Press, Kingsport, Tennessee, 1975)p. 123-5.

13. Orderly Book: British Regiment of Footguards, Aug. 14, 1776-Jany 28 1777. Mss p. 241-242. New York Historical Society.

14. British Orderly Book: Sir William Howe, Commander in Chief, September 26, 1776 - June 2, 1777. Captain Henry Knight, Aide-de-Camp to General Howe. Mss. p. 126. New York Historical Society.

15. Return dated December 1, 1776. Force, op. cit, p. 1055.

16. Henry Knight Orderly Book, op. cit., p. 155.

17. Anon., A History of East Amwell, 1700-1800 (Bradford Press, Flemington, NJ, 1976) Pension record of John Schanck, R9251, p. 122.

18. James P Snell, History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, New Jersey, with Illustrations and Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers (Everts & Peck, Philadelphia, 1881) p. 48

19. John W. Leaquear, Traditions of Hunterdon. Originally published as a series of articles on the Early History and Traditions of Hunterdon County in the Hunterdon Republican, Flemington, N.J.. in 1869-1870 under the title 'Traditions of Our Ancestors". (D.H. Moreau, Flemington, N.J., 1957), p. 64.

20. Ibid, p. 64.

21. The Journal of Ensign Thomas Glyn, 1st Regiment of Foot Guards on the American Service with the Brigade of Guards. I776-l777. Princeton University Library Mss. As transcribed by Linnea Bass, transcript p. 19.

22. Hinde, op. cit., p. 537.

23. Lt. Col. Harcourt to Adm. Geary. in Schreiner. op. cit., p. 4.

24. Gen. John Burgoyne to Adm. Geary, February 26, 1777. Elias Vosseler Papers, Hunterdon County Historical Society, Folder #315. Copied from the original by Sir William Nevill Geary, Bt., Oxon Heath, Tonbridge, England.

25. Elias Vosseler Papers, ibid.

26. Henry Knight Orderly Book. op. cit., p. 26.

27. W.O. 65. Army List 1774, IND 5467. p. 47. PRO.

28. Leaquear, op. cit, p. 63-64.

29. Snell, op. cit, p. 48.

30. Rev. George S. Mott, D.D., History of the Presbyterian Church in Flemington, New Jersey, for a Century. With Sketches of Local Matters for Two Hundred Years (New York, Wilbur B. Ketcham, 1894) p. 15-17.

31. Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society. Second Series, Volume XI, No. 1 (Jan. 1890), p. 19-20.

32. Sir George Otto Trevelyan, Bt. The American Revolution. Volume 11 (Longmans, Green, and Co., London, 1903), p. 68.

33. Ibid.. p. 68.

34. Ibid., p. 78.

35. Bellamy Partridge. Sir Billy Howe (Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1932), p. 115.

36. Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, op. cit, p. 20.

37. Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, Second Series, Volume XI, no. 4 (1891), p. 166.

38. Hunterdon County Historical Society, 'Centennial Newsletter Series', Volume 21 No. I (Winter 1985), p. 431.

39. "Surviving in the Society's collection are some of the buttons from Geary's uniform.." "Some of the Society's Tresaures Reviewed.. Hunterdon Historical Newsletter (Spring, 1976), p. 2.

40. Vosseller, op. cit.. p. 4.

41. Leaquear, op. cit, p. 65.

42. Elias Vosseller, 'The Story of the British Raid on Flemington. N. J December 14th, 1776.' Hunterdon County Historical Society.. p. 5.

43. Jane Wykoff, "Hunterdon's Role in The Revolution: Hunterdon's Embattled Farmers.. Hunterdon County Democrat, July 22, 1976, Flemington, NJ, p. 41.

44. Schreiner, op. cit, pg. 5.

45. Wykoff, pg. 41.


Written by Gilbert Riddle,

Geary grave marker and plaque

Finding the grave-  the grave is SE of the Amwell Militia Memorial on Rt. 31, but the best way to get there is off Cornet Way from Rt. 31.  Turn left from Geary onto Werts Rd, and go past Lowes Court.  Between the 1st and second houses on the left past Lowes Ct, there are some wooden steps going onto a ridge.  The steps are the start of a gravel path that leads to the grave.



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New Jersey during the Revolution

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I recommend also Outwater's Militia  web page.


Web pages written and created by Glenn Valis. last revision 11/03/07. All rights reserved