A Patriot-Loyalist: Playing Both Sides

People characterize the American Revolution in terms of Patriots and Loyalists – those who supported the rebellion, and those who supported the British government. When assessing individuals, it is tempting to assume we know which side they were on based on specific things that they did. But it’s not always so cut and dry. Is service in a Continental regiment indicative of someone being a true patriot to the United States, or does service in a Provincial regiment correctly illustrate a person’s loyalty to King George the Third?  What if a man served both, almost equally?

Let’s look at a man named William Shoemaker. He was born in 1743 while on board ship heading from Germany to England’s American colonies.  His parents settled in Sussex County, where he was living when “he enlisted and entered into the Service of the United States as a private to serve for the period of three years… That the company in which he served was attached to the Second Jersey Regiment and commanded by Col. Shrieves and the whole under the command of Genl. Maxfield [Maxwell].  That he first marched to a place then called the White Marsh near Philadelphia from thence he marched to Brandywine and fought in the battle that there took place in the fall of AD 1777 – from thence he marched back with the army to or near Germantown and fought in the battle that there took place.”

This information comes from Shoemaker’s application for a pension, made in 1833. He also indicated his final service in the war: “That having so continued and fought with the main line of the army in most of the engagements that took place, he was taken prisoner by the British at the battle of Springfield and kept in Custody by them during the period of eighteen months.  That when he was liberated the war had terminated and peace was restored.  That the army was disbanded, he never received a discharge but returned to his residence and home after having served near seven years in the service of the United States.”  The 2nd New Jersey Regiment had two men missing amongst its casualties at the Battle of Springfield, so Shoemaker’s claim certainly seemed plausible.[1]  But was what Shoemaker actually claimed the truth?

My interest in Shoemaker actually started while researching a group of about 130 Loyalist recruits who attempted to march from Bucks County, Pennsylvania and northwest New Jersey to the British forces on Staten Island.  This group was intercepted on or about 18 September 1777 and dispersed short of its goal, with only a handful others reaching the British. The majority were initially imprisoned in Trenton.[2]  Militiaman James Deneen, one of the guards, later recalled: “The first service…was to guard sixty prisners couppled two and two to gether to trentown jail.”[3]  The impending trial and possible execution of the prisoners created quite a buzz around Morristown.  Many years after the event, one of the guards, Israel Aber, recalled the incident: “two officers…who had recruited a company for the enemy, were tried at Morristown, condemned & hanged by Sheriff Alexander Carmichael.  The privates of the Co. were condemned also but were pardoned on condition of enlistment in the American Army.”[4]  The most chilling eyewitness account though comes from Peter DuBois, a Loyalist held prisoner in Morristown Jail on unrelated charges.  He wrote this account for the benefit of Sir Henry Clinton:

Yesterday Was Executed here pursuant to their Sentence, Mr. James Iliff & Mr. John Mee. Mr. Iliff was a Lieut. in Colo. Barton’s Regiment[5] and for some years had been an inhabitant of Hunterdon County in the Province of N. Jersey Where he had been collecting together a number of people who were Solicitous to fly from Tyranny and Join their Countrymen on Staten Island with whom he was taken in the month of September on their way to their Regiment, for which he has Suffered death. During his confinement and at the place of Execution he behaved with Great Calmness and fortitude, Declaring that He had Acted from a principle of Duty to His King and Enjoy’d the Satisfaction of an Approving Conscience in his last moments. I shall hereafter give you more particulars concerning these unfortunate and much neglected men, at present I have no time. Twenty four have been pardoned on the Express Condition of their Inlisting in the Continental Army & paying Charges which Amounted to Eighteen pounds per man. Nine are Respited for a month Among them is Dr. Forman. I cannot for want of time by this Oppty. tell you how much All these poor people have Suffered nor how their Sufferings have been agravated by Every Species of Insult. The Corps of Iliff & Mee were drawn on a Sled from under the Gallows & thrown Into the Room in which Dr. Forman & his companions are confined in Irons. And the Gallows was placed before their prison window.[6]

For the remaining prisoners, “the love of life prevailed” and they enlisted in the New Jersey Continental Line.[7]  Muster rolls show that the prisoners enlisted into the 1st, 3rd and 4th New Jersey Regiments.  A loyalist officer later asserted that all but three or four eventually found their way to the British Army, and this is verified by correlating the muster rolls of the New Jersey Continentals with those of the British Provincial troops.  These men made their way into both Philadelphia (when it was under British control in 1777 and 1778) and New York, as well as to the British army marching across New Jersey in 1778. The majority joined the 1st and 3rd Battalions of New Jersey Volunteers or the Maryland Loyalists.

There were two others taken with the Loyalists recruits in 1777, Thomas Anderson and William Shoemaker, both deserters from the 2nd New Jersey Regiment.[8]  The Council of Safety ordered them returned to their regiment.  Anderson deserted again, this time successfully making his way to Staten Island, where he joined the 1st Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers, with whom he served until he deserted from them on 3 February 1780.[9]

Knowing that William Shoemaker had been with a party of Loyalist recruits, one sentence in his pension application raised suspicion: that he had been captured by the British at the Battle of Springfield, held by the British eighteen months, and returned home when the war was over. The Battle of Springfield, New Jersey, was fought on 23 June 1780.  Eighteen months later would have been roughly Christmas, 1781.  While Cornwallis had indeed surrendered at Yorktown two months previous, no one considered the war over and no general exchange of prisoners took place until May of 1783.  What if Shoemaker actually joined the British, the last of those taken in 1777 to have done so?

The muster rolls of the 2nd New Jersey Regiment show that William Shoemaker enlisted on 22 June 1777 for a term of three years, serving as a private in Captain Henry Luce’s Company.[10]  There is no September roll for his company to verify his desertion, but it is known from the other information related above. The next roll, October, has the comment “Pay Commences 12 October 1777” for Shoemaker, indicating his return to the regiment.  He was present with his corps until detached with a company strength detachment that spent the brutal winter of 1779-1780 at Squan, near the Jersey shore in Monmouth County, part of a secret plan to obtain blankets from British-held New York City.[11]

The detachment at Squan had gained the notice of the British, probably via the British post at Sandy Hook or through a spy network administered by Brigadier General Cortland Skinner of the New Jersey Volunteers.  Lt. Col. Elisha Lawrence, former commander of the 1st Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers, proceeded from Staten Island to Sandy Hook, where he awaited a favorable opportunity to lead a detachment of the corps to Squan and surprise Captain Bowman’s detachment.  Unfavorable winds prevented the Monmouth County Loyalist officer from crossing over the gut until the night of 21 April 1780, unaware that Captain Bowman and the bulk of his men had marched away to rejoin their corps. James Rivington’s Royal Gazette recorded the ensuing events: “…Col. Laurence landed at midnight and marched immediately for the cantonement of the enemy, which he soon reached, but was much mortified in finding the post had been withdrawn the morning of the 20th, a Lieutenant, serjeant and four or five private men excepted, who were made prisoners; nothing further remaining to be done, the detachment reimbarked and returned to Sandy Hook the 22nd inst.”[12]  2nd Lieutenant Benajah Osmun of Captain Helm’s Company was the officer taken prisoner, along with Sergeant John Curtis, Private Isaac Douty, Private Jacob Shaver, Private Henry Haldron… and Private William Shoemaker.[13]

On the next muster roll of the 2nd New Jersey Regiment, Private William Shoemaker was officially listed as “taken prisoner 22 April 1780.”  This conflicts with Shoemaker’s pension application in which he claimed that he “was taken prisoner by the British at the battle of Springfield and kept in Custody by them during the period of eighteen months.” Had Shoemaker simply mistaken which action at which he had been taken prisoner?  No, probably not.  Springfield was almost certainly a memorable action for him, but for other reasons.

The pay abstract of the 1st Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers for the period 25 April to 24 June 1780, the very Loyalist unit that captured Lt. Osmun and his small detachment, shows a William Shoemaker enlisting in the corps on 23 April 1780, just 24 hours after the surprise at Squan.[14]  As a newly enlisted Loyalist soldier in His Majesty’s Service, Shoemaker followed his corps into battle when Lt. General Knyphausen led 6,000 British, German and Provincial troops into New Jersey in an attempt to bring Washington’s Army to battle.  After fighting at Connecticut Farms on 7 June 1780 and the following day at Elizabethtown Point, the army encamped for two weeks before surging forward to Springfield. The fighting on 23 June 1780 saw the 1st and 4th Battalions, New Jersey Volunteers engaged in fighting against the 2nd and 3rd New Jersey Regiments of the Continental Line.  One can only wonder the thoughts running through the minds of the New Jersey soldiers fighting against their fellow countrymen, particularly those such as William Shoemaker who had served on each side at some point. Each side gave as good as they got.  At the end of the day, the New Jersey Continentals had lost 3 killed, 10 wounded and 6 missing;[15] their counterparts in the New Jersey Volunteers had lost 1 killed, 8 wounded and 2 missing.[16]  Amongst the wounded was Private William Shoemaker.[17]

Shoemaker’s brief active career with the British army was at an end.  His wounds were serious enough to require a stay at the army’s General Hospital in New York through the remainder of 1780, and he was an invalid (that is, unfit for active service) through the end of the war.  Beyond that, his whereabouts are a mystery.  When his battalion was disbanded in 1783 the men of his battalion embarked on board vessels for the River Saint John in Nova Scotia (present-day New Brunswick), but Shoemaker may not have been among them.  Although listed as present with his company at their final muster at Newtown, Long Island on 22 August 1783, the former Continental does not appear to have received any land grant in the Maritimes. According to family history, Shoemaker and his wife were living in Hamilton Township, Pennsylvania by 1786.  At the time of his pension application in 1833, he was a ninety year old veteran residing in Fairfield County, Ohio, where he remained until his death three years later.[18]  And yes, he was receiving a pension from the taxpayers of the United States of America for his service in the Continental Army.

The story of William Shoemaker is hardly unique.  Thousands of men served on both sides during some part in their Revolutionary War careers, some by necessity and others by conviction. Their stories remain relatively hidden in period documents, at least without careful scrutiny.  It is a lesson to researchers that even though individual manuscript documents may be primary sources, they may not accurately represent the facts. Research must take on a form of “paper archeology,” putting together pieces of a puzzle from numerous sources, from collections not only in different states, but often in different countries.  It is only then that we know the full story.  Such is the case of William Shoemaker.

 

 


[1] “Return of the Killed, Wounded & Missing in the Action of the 23rd June 1780, Springfield.”  George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence, 7 June 1780 – 10 July 1780, Library of Congress.  Hereafter cited as LOC.

[2] “List of Prisoners” from Philadelphia and New Jersey, c-October, 1777.  Department of Defense, Loyalist Manuscripts, Box 20, No. 50, New Jersey State Archives.  Hereafter cited as NJSA.

[3] Pension Application of James Deneen.  Collection M-804, Pension and Bounty Land Application Files, No. S2162, James Deneen, New Jersey, National Archives and Records Administration.  Hereafter cited as NARA.

[4] Pension Application of Israel Aber.  Collection M-804, Pension and Bounty Land Application Files, No. S2525, Israel Aber, New Jersey, NARA.

[5] 5th Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers.

[6] DuBois to Clinton, Morristown, 3 December 1777.  Sir Henry Clinton Papers, Volume 27, item 52, University of Michigan, William L. Clements Library.  Hereafter cited as CL.

[7] James Moody, Lieut. James Moody’s Narrative of his Exertions and Sufferings in the Cause of Government, since the Year 1776, Richardson and Urquhart (London, 1783), 8-9.

[8] Minutes of the Council of Safety of the State of New Jersey, Printed by John H. Lyon (Jersey City, 1872), 139.

[9] Notes Relative to Abstract, 1st Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers, 24 February to 24 April 1780.  Department of Defense, Loyalist Manuscripts, No. 11-L, NJSA.  This may be the same Thomas Anderson who enlisted on 7 July 1778 in the Caledonian Volunteers, which corps later that month helped form the British Legion and from whom this person deserted on 24 October 1778.  The Thomas Anderson in the NJV enlisted with them in October 1778.  Sheriff JLM Mitchell Collection, GB232/D928/A/I/14, Gaelic Society of Inverness.

[10] “Pay Roll of Captn. Henry Luces Compy. in the 2nd Battalion of New Jersey Forces Commd. by Coll. Israel Shreve For the Month July 1777.”  M 246, Reel 59, Folder 31-2, NARA.

[11] An excellent account of the mission at Squan can be found in John U. Rees’ “The great distress of the Army for want of Blankets…” Supply Shortages, Suffering Soldiers, and a Secret Mission During the Hard Winter of 1780.  Published in Military Collector & Historian, vol. 52, no. 3 (Fall 2000), 98-110.

[12] The Royal Gazette (New York,) April 26, 1780.  The Royal American Gazette for April 25th reported 10 or 12 prisoners taken, but this number is incorrect.

[13] The prisoners came from Lt. Col. DeHart’s, Captain Bowman’s and Captain Helm’s Companies.  M 246, Reel 59, Folders 30-1 & 31-1, NARA.

[14] “Minutes of Abstracts of 1st Battalion New Jersey Volunteers from 25th April to 24th June 1780.  Department of Defense, Loyalist Manuscripts, No. 12-L, NJSA

[15] “Return of the Killed, Wounded 7 Missing in the Action of the 23rd June 1780, Springfield.”  George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence, 7 June 1780 – 10 July 1780, LOC.

[16] Return of the Killed, Wounded and Missing of His Majesty’s Forces, 23 June 1780.  Clinton Papers 106:3, CL.

[17] Muster Roll of Captain John Cougle’s Company, 1st Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers, Staten Island, 14 July 1780.  RG 8, “C” Series, Volume 1852, folio 72, Library and Archives Canada.

[18] William Shoemaker’s genealogy can be found online at: http://66.193.175.9/txshoegene/WilliamShoemakerSr

 

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10 Comments

  • Abiah Parke was the British secret contact at Squan. He is possiblely the one who would have sent information forward on the arrival of the American detachment at Squan.

    • According to a Chester Co. Pa., Parke family history, “Abiah Parke was a Tory and went to Canada – nothing more being known of him” – but, I did uncover a scrap of information about him in an old Upper Canada land Copy Book in the Chatham/Kent Museum collection – his name appears when he sells his pasture farm near the mouth of the Thames River in July of 1796 – which is also the summer the British officially leave Detroit – expect he’d be about 60 yrs old by this time. (the river empties into Lake St.Clair) – He does get mentioned in the local history books in connection with the Moravians, and a note says he petitioned for land in 1793.

  • Great article, thanks! It really demonstrates the cultural framework for a subgroup of the population during the war–an important, yet oft-ignored subgroup at that.

  • Strange and fascinating details. I wonder: what got you started on tracking down the discrepancies in the records that lead to the conclusion that Shoemaker served both sides?
    More on my blogs:
    History: Bottom Lines
    Barley Literate

  • One of my great uncles was Matthew Thornton, of Thornton, NH. His uncle was Matthew Thornton, Esq. who signed the Declaration of Independence for N.H. He served as a Lt. in Capt. Osgood’s company in 1775. He mustered out in Dec. 1775. In August of 1777 he captured by American forces at the Battle of Bennington on the wrong side of the British line. He claimed to have been checking on his property near Otter Creek, NY and was captured by Hessian soldiers and forced to drive their wagons. After the battle he was arrested and formally charged with treason. He was held in prison until 1779 when he went on trial. He was found not guilty, but some feel it was in deference to his uncle. He left the US for New Brunswick, Canada. It must have been very difficult for divided families to make sense of what was happening. Thanks for a great article.

  • Are there any larger studies or discussions of the patriot-loyalist in this period? I recall reading somewhere of a merchant who played both sides during the war; a crime of opportunity, if you will. I can’t, for the life of me, remember where I read it.

  • I believe I have an ancestor that more or less qualifies as a patriot/loyalist. William Deits (spelling highly variable) was captured in the company of a Loyalist recruiter and tried for treason (I have the transcript) and found guilty. Owing to his youth he was given the choice to be hanged or switch sides. Prudently, he did the latter. He returned to Ulster County NY after the war.

  • I have a Loyalist-Patriot uncle, I noticed a few months ago, the younger Dr. John Pyle, husband of my aunt Sarah Brashear, whose younger sister Elizabeth married the Patriot Ezekiel Henderson, my GGGG Grandfather, after the war. Soon several Brashear heads of household left North Carolina for Greenville, South Carolina, along with at least two sons-in-law, Pyle and Henderson. Pyle’s shame as a surviving Loyalist from the Hacking Party pursued him, apparently, into more removals. In his belated pension application (August 1833) Thomas Boyd S17286 got the older man’s death wrong but had news: “Colonel Pyles was killed on the spot – a son of his who lost his eye in that surprise is now living in Illinois where I saw him a few years since.” Some accounts have both doctors losing parts of one or two hands, and the best one has the wounded older man submerging himself in a pond and breathing through a reed until Light Horse Harry was gone. A family story is that a son of John and Sarah was so ashamed of his father and grandfather that he was the first in his county to volunteer in the War of 1812, and served through the Battle of New Orleans.
    The Colonial State Records prints William O’Neal’s letter to Governor Thomas Burke dated March 19, 1782. After David Fanning had captured Governor Burke, the Pyle father and son surrendered to O’Neal under promise of amnesty: “We at that time had several men wounded. I ordered him [Pyle Sr] to take charge of the wounded, which he did, and proved very faithful. Also when I defeated Fanning at Soloman Coxe’s where we had several men wounded, and the Enemy also, I sent for him; he immediately came and assisted as far as in his power. His son having before that time, to-wit: in a skirmish with our people received so many wounds and was maimed in such a manner that he was not there, and I believe he was not fit for military duty. I, therefore, could not assign him any. They have both behaved very well ever since, and I doubt not they will remain good subjects should your Excellency think proper to seal their pardon.” O’Neal was a master of understatement if he knew that the “skirmish with our people” was the Hacking Party.
    I can only assume that Grandpa Henderson loved Elizabeth Brashear very much.

    • The Orange County / Chatham County Brashears who went to Greenville, S.C. starting around 1785 had been Tories. In Greenville young Patriot Ezekiel Henderson made his life with these former Tory in-laws and named a son Brasher.

  • And it wasn’t just British and Americans who switched sides out of convenience. An officer serving in the garrison of Pensacola when it was under siege by the Spanish wrote, “One of the Waldeck who was taken at Baton Rouge, and had enlisted in the Regt. of Louisiana, deserted and came and joined his regiment.” [“Major Farmar’s Journal of the Siege of Pensacola”, Historical Magazine, June 1860 p168]

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