The James McMichael Journal, May 27, 1776–October 29, 1776


February 5, 2018
by Joseph Lee Boyle Also by this Author


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Editor’s Note: This is part one of a five-part series. Part two. Part three.

The “Diary” of Lieutenant James McMichael first appeared in 1890 in the Pennsylvania Archives series 2, volume 15. It reappeared in volume 16 of The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography in 1892. Both versions are available online at Hathitrust and have been cited in numerous histories of the American War for Independence. The manuscript was then in the possession of Col. William P. McMichael of Philadelphia. Some time later it was given to Princeton University, where it currently resides in the Andre de Coppet Collection at the Firestone Library. McMichael called it his “Journal,” which is the term that will be used here. It begins on May 27, 1776, and ends on May 12, 1778.The purpose of this effort is to present the entire journal for publication, as the published versions are incomplete. For example, the published versions show entries for eight days in the month of October 1776, while the original manuscript at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania has entries for sixteen days that month. The published version also has eight entries for August 1777, while the manuscript has fifteen. A number of the entries are McMichael’s versification, and he used a simple code for comments when writing about his loved one, Susanna. For example, six strokes of the pen stood for the letter “y,” three strokes for “i,” and nine strokes for “s.”

McMichael was born in Scotland and was apparently well educated. He emigrated to America and was living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania when the American Revolution began. In April 1776, he began service as a sergeant in the Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment. He was commissioned second lieutenant of the Pennsylvania State Regiment (13th Pennsylvania) on April 18, 1777, and first lieutenant on June 20. In July 1778, he transferred to the 7th Pennsylvania, to the 4th Pennsylvania in 1781, and finally to the 1st Pennsylvania on January 1, 1783. He served in the army until June 3, 1783. The most complete sketch on McMichael is in Kilbourne’s history of the Pennsylvania Cincinnati, though he does not mention his court martial in 1779.[1]

His appearance in the military record after the journal ends is limited. We know he took the Oath of Allegiance at Valley Forge on May 28, 1778, which was witnessed by Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg, and Trouble befell McMichael late the following year, and he was brought before a general court martial on four charges. Records of the trial proceedings have not been found, but Washington’s general orders on November 20, 1779, show the results of the October 29 trial:

At a General Court Martial of the line whereof Colo. Chambers is President Octr 29th—Lieutenant McMichael of the 7th Pennsylvania regiment was tried upon the following charges: 1st—“Disobedience of orders.[”] 2nd—“Frequent neglects of duty.[”] 3rd—“Releasing a Prisoner out of the Quarter-Guard confined by the commanding officer without his (the commanding officer’s) leave.[”] 4th—“Unofficerlike behavior in saying he did but little duty in the regiment, and that he would do no kind of duty in the regiment that was in his power to avoid, during Majr Moore’s command.The Court acquit Lieutenant McMichael of the 1st 2nd and 3rd charges exhibited against him; but they are of opinion that the 4th charge is supported and that Lt McMichael made use of expressions improper & unbecoming an officer being a breach of article 5th section 18th of the rules and articles of war and do sentence him to be reprimanded in the orders of the division he belongs to, by the commanding officer of the same.
The Commander in Chief confirms the sentence and directs it to be carried into execution, after which Lieutt McMichael is to be released from his arrest; At the same time the General cannot but express his own disapprobation of Lieutenant McMichael’s conduct, it appearing in the course of the proceedings against him to have been exceptionable in many respects.[2]

One wonders what irregularities Washington was aware of.

Despite Washington’s disapproval, McMichael continued in the army, and he served until June 3, 1783.[3] McMichael was the last signer of the “Lancaster Roll” of the Society of Cincinnati of Pennsylvania on August 1, 1783.

On March 4, 1777, McMichael married Susanna Vannoy at St. James Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania after a very brief courtship. His journal shows a marked appreciation for the wedded life and “my dear Susanna.” In February and June 1783, he was in Lancaster and in October he was at West Conocheague, in the area of what is now Mercersburg.[4] No military business was recorded in his journal, nor did he mention his wife—though it should be noted that he made many appreciative comments about the ladies.

On March 7, 1780, as the war dragged on, the General Assembly of Pennsylvania promised land to soldiers in an effort to keep men in the ranks. These “donation lands” were bounded on the east by the Allegheny River and on the west by the Ohio border. Although his rank as lieutenant entitled him to 400, McMichael was granted 200 acres of land for his military service on November 1, 1786.[5]

His fate is a mystery. His apparent descendant, the Colonel McMichael who owned the journal, believed that he sailed for Scotland “several years subsequent” to 1789. Kilbourne believed he sailed for Ireland in 1784, after which the ship was lost. The Papers of George Washington show he died in 1788. What is certain is that by 1790 Susanna had remarried and appeared in probate proceedings as “Susannah Bryan, formerly Susannah Vannoy McMichael.”[6] This first section of the journal ends on The portion of his journal from its beginning on May 27, 1776 through October 29, 1776 is presented here in its entirety. McMichael, we find out, doesn’t seem to have been much of an outdoorsman. In his first entry he laments spending his first night ever without a bed and in “disagreeable company.”

His first “action” was service in Delaware, looking, without success, for Loyalists in the Lewes area. Nonetheless, this seems to have whetted his appetite for action. Later, he moved through New Jersey and joined Washington’s forces in the attempt to defend New York.

At the Battle of Brooklyn he sadly records the loss of so many in his regiment and credits the “indulgent providence of God” for keeping him safe. He was safely evacuated from Long Island and served in the skirmishes and battles that took place during Washington’s retreat in the fall of 1776.

Journal for Jas. Mc. Michael Commencing the 27th. May A.D. 1776 Containing a Brief account of the Marches of the Penna. Rifle Regt. with the distance in Miles from place to Place—and some remarks of the Country and Inhabitants—
Jas. Mc.Michael Philomath[7]

May 27 1776 After Captn. Marshels Compy. formed at the Cross roads Drumore Township Lancaster County—we all marched at 3 oClock P. M. and arived at Colo. Thompsons at 6 where we remain’d that night But being necessitated to Lodge without a Bed I passed the night without sleep it being the first night I ever was denied a bed; this with disagreeable company rendered me very unhappy—

28th. Marched from Colo. Thompson’s at 7 oClock A. M. proceeding through Fags Manor and arived at Welch’s Tavern When the Sun had quitted the Horizon here—I was well accomodated and spent the night very Comfortably in Compy. with My worthy friend viz Lieut. Jno. Clark.

May 29th Having orders to proceed to Chester we Marched from Welch’s Just when Phebus had dispell’d the dawn of Aurora and at 2 oClock P. M. we arived at Chester but orders being Countermanded we returned to Prospect Hill near Marcus Hook where we Encamped having Tents for our habitation which was to me very disagreeable

[Dist. from Drumore to Marcus Hook 55 Miles]


30th Having now Join’d Colo Miles’s Regt. we were this morning ordered to Parade where we went thro’ our manoeuvres and Evolutions with great applause. After having returned to Our Tents I passed the remains of the day in Solitude being somewhat pensive and in this manner without any thin [sic] Occurring worthy of record I passed some days—

June 2nd This being the Sabbath Day I was much surprized when I was awaked with the noise of Drums and fifes Beating Reveillie—this day the Soldiers appeared much intoxicated insomuch that every Vice shone conspicuous at Camp—I spent the Day recluse not choosing to associate with any person their conduct being disagreeable—During the remainder of this Week Nothing worthy of Record offered itself only we daily expected the English fleet up Delaware

13th. Express at Camp informing us of a number of Tories having embodied in Arms at Lewis Town we are all preparing for a march to morow in order to disperse them which we mean to do at the hazard of Our Lives—

June 14 We marched from Camp at Prospect Hill to Wilmington where we recd. Countermand Orders and returned that evening to our former Encampment.

15th Having Vessels ready to Transport the Troops to Port-Penn—we embarked at Noon—and stood down the River

16th At the appearance of Phebus we arived at Port-Penn where we remained till 2 oClock P. M. when we proceeded a few miles into the Country and Encamp’d

17th. Marched at the Beating of Reveillie for Dover in Kent County where we arived at Dark after a fatiguing march this is a very irregular Town in its form—Situate in a beautiful part of the Country where not so much as a hill is to be seen; but the air very unwholesom—

18th We marched from Dover at 9 oClock A. M. and directing our Course for Lewis Town we marched till Evening and encamped —

June 19th. This day we proceeded as yesterday having nothing worth of Record.

20th Marched from our encampment in the morning and arived at Lewis at 11 oClock A. M. —

This Town is Situate in view of Cape May and Cape Henlopen 3 miles from the Light-House and tho it’s Situation be delightfull yet the Town is devoid of Beuty—the Country from Port-Penn to Lewis—quite Level diversified with innumerable marshes—the worst water imaginable—The inhabitents of a Tawny Colour and Swarthy Complexion

[Dist From Marcus Hook to Lewis Town 140 Miles]


27th. The Roebuc-Man of war and the Leverpool with three Tenders came into the bay But the Detestible Tories hearing of the Rifle Men being comming have all through pusilanimily evacuated the Town, which is very grievous to us; as we hoped to have had the pleasure of cutting them all of in the field of Battle— [8]

June 28th Several Scouting parties sent to Patrole the Neighbourhood for Tories, which having found their Officers and sworn them to be true to Congress they were dismissd whilst we are preparing Vessals to Embark for Marcus Hook to morrow having nothing more to dow at Lewis—

29th At 4 oClock P. M. we Embarked for Marcus Hook and having a favourable Voyage we reach’d our desired Haven the 1st. July at 10 oClock A. M.—Where we remain’d a few days without any thing worth of Recordx—

July 4th. Marched from Marcus-Hook at Revellie Beating and proceeding through Chester Derby and over Schuylkill we arived at Philada. at 2 oClock P. M.—This City for Uniformity and a beautiful Situation is equal to any I ever seen.—

July 6th At 2 oClock P. M. marched from our Quarters to Stamper’s Wharf where we Embarked and proceeded for Burdington—

7th We arived at Burdington at Sun Rise—here we rec’d orders to proceed for Amboy in East-New-Jersey—at 2 oClock P. M. we marched from Burdington and proceeded to Allen Town near to which Captn. Farmers Gun went off accidentally and shot a Soldier in his own Company the consequence of which was like to put Captn. L. Farmer Delirious—we arived at Allen Town at 6 oClock P. M.[9]

8th at 6 oClock A. M. we marched from Allen Town, and proceeded through Cramberry at Noon—and reached Brunswick at the Time when Febus had denied the rays of his Golden beams to the inhabitants Which Lye to the Northward of the Equinochael—which is Vulgarly called Sun Down

July 7th. [sic] This us a pretty little Town Situate in a Valley on the Western Bank of Rariton River which renders the Town more agreeable because the River is Navigable for small Craft—During our abode here there happened nothing worthy of record—the Inhabitants all along from Burdintown seem possessed of Patriotism—being remarkable for their hospitality to our Sick Soldiers.—

11th At the time when Phebus had displayd his golden beams in the Northern Hemisphere we Evacuated Brunswick and reached Perth Amboy at Noon where we discovered the Enemy on Staten Island—this Town is commodious; Situate on a fertile plain 75 miles from Philada. Bounded by a beatiful Bay on the East and by Rariton on the South—the inhabitants of New Jersey seems friends to our present Struggle they are of a Ruddy Complexion and in their Stature resembles the people of G Brit.

July 17th. This morning at the beating of revellie we were informed that the Enemy were Landed at Elizabeth-Town which occasioned us to March from Perth-Amboy to Elizabeth where we arived at 2 oClock P. M., but finding the allarm false we determined to cross to Staten Island that night in order to visit the troops under the command of Genl. How—but a Hurrican arose which prevented our Embarkation and we were afterwards inform’d that we shoud have been all cut off had we Embarked at that time—

18th. We this morning recd. Orders to resume our former Station at P. Amboy we marched from Elizabeth Town at 10 oClock A. M. and reached P. Amboy Just when Febus had visited the inhabitants of the Torrid Zone to the South of the Equator this night we Joined Genl. Mercer’s Brigade No longer to take orders from an officer under the rank of Brigadier Genl. for we now act as Continental troops tho’ rais’d for the Defence of Pennsylvania.

July 23rd. This Day 1000 of the Pennsylvania Millitia came to P. Amboy which all seems like true Patriots—a Rifle man to Day Was Shot by the Enemy going in a Boat to Staten Island—

24th. At the beating of Tattoo a boat was hailed by our Centries going Down Rariton this alarmed us all which occasioned us to stand to Arms and go to our Allarm posts but she, being brought to Shore, the crew had Evacuated the Vessal and nothing cou’d be found in her but a few swivel Balls—

25th. At 4 oClock P. M. three Schooners came down the Sound, but being hailed by our Centries they returned no answer after which a heavy Cannonade ensued on both Sides Viz from our Battery near the ferry and from the Enemy’s Battery at Billops point on Staten Island, during the action we had 1 man killed and another wounded the Loss of the Enemy not properly known, but the Schooners got off much damaged.—

Augt. 3d. I this morning was order’d on Command about 20 men in order, to take the small Craft from P. Amboy to red Root Creek near Boanem-Town, where I remained with the pleasure of Enjoying Solitude for a Week being Sequestered from Company this to a person of my disposition was very agreeable because I was somewhat pensive.—

9th. His Excellency Genl. Washington sent a Letter to Colo. Miles requesting the Rifle men to go to head Quarters New-York with which we all agreed Neminecontradecente to march next Day.—[10]

10th. Being relieved from Command I return with my Guard to Point Pleasant near P. Amboy, and at 10 oClock A. M. the Regt. marched—we proceeded to Elizabeth Town and Encamped on the Plains. This is an irregular Town in its form—Situate 15 miles from P. Amboy and the like distance from N. York nearly opposite the North End of Staten Island.—

Augt. 11th. Just when Phebus had visited the inhabitants 40o in N. Latd. with his Golden Rays the Genl. was beat and the troops paraded when we marched from the Plains of Elizabeth-Town, we proceeded thro’ New-Ark, over the ferries of Passiac, Hackinsack and Powles Hook and reached the City of New-York at 4 oClock P. M.—after forming the Regt. in the City we marched a mile out of Town to a place called Pleasant-Hill and there Encamped.—

The Country from P. Amboy to New York Quite Level diversified with salt marshes —

This night we Joined Lord Stirlings Brigade which Entirely consisted of Pennsylvanians Virginians and Marylanders—we are now in view of a formidable English Fleet at the End of Staten Island their number said to Consist of 100 Sail of the Line together with a number of Transports—

Augt. 12th This City is large but very irregular in its plan, it is Bounded on the N. by Hudsons River on the S. by the East river Commonly called the Sound, these two rivers intersects at the East End of the City and forms a Bay which is its Eastern Boundary. The Inhabitants resembles those in the Lower Counties on Delaware, being of a Pale complexion low in Stature but chiefly Tories.—

This day the Enemy have recd. a large reinforcement which presages a Sudden attack we wait impatiently for them to Sally as we only act in our defence

14th. A Dester from the Enemy says there are 25000 on Staten Island Just about to Embark in order to attack us at N. York we are now much precipitated making ready for an Engagement, for my own part I Was curious to see an attack never yet having seen the Like—

Augt. 17th The movement of the Enemy gives undoubted authority of a Sudden attack for they have been Embarked for some Days—this occasioned his Excellency Genl. Washington to issue a proclamation ordering all women, Children and Infirm persons to Evacuate New-York till after the Engagement.—

18th. Two men of War with their Tenders came down Hudson’s River. they were fired upon by all the Batteris near the Shore, they Suffered much loss but got Down to the fleet —

19th. The Enemy having Struck their Tents we had a narrow inspection into the Arms and Ammunition, the Brigade paraded but being dismissed we had all orders to Lye on Our Arms all night—we have intelligence from a Deserter that the Enemy is about to attack us in a few Days—he also gave us an acct. that the Fenex who went Down Hudsons River the 18th. was much hurt.[11]

Augt. 21st. An Excessive Storm of Thunder and Lightening took place to Day—In the next Encampment to us there was 1 Captn. 1 Lieut. & 1 Ensign killed with Thunder—[12]

22nd. The Enemy having now Landed on Long Island Occasioned our Brigade to be paraded we were Ordered to Long Island and after marching out of our Encampment our orders were countermanded; and half ordered to the Island that night and the Remainder to be in readiness to follow at a moments warning. the 1st. Battn. together with our Musquetry and the Delaware Blues all went to the Island and we were ordered to our Tents.—

24th At 10 oClock A.M. we all marched from our Encampment, and Crossed St. George’s ferry to Long Island. Just after we had joined the Brigade we had a heavy Cannonade with some small Arms—This night we lay in the woods under an Excessive rain without Tents, the Cannonade kept up till Dark, the Centries firing all night.

Augt. 25th We this morning were allarm’d thet the Enemy were comming in a Grand army to attack us we immediately got ready and marched to meet them, however we cou’d not descry any of them in Consequence of which we returned to our Encampment.—

26th. 120 Men properly Officered were ordered to be a Scouting party for the Day but after we had traversed the Woods till Noon we returned without making any discovery’s, this night the Centries kept a continual firing

Tuesday 27th. Just when Phebus had Surmounted the Horizon we were ordered to march, we proceeded Easterly from Near flatbush a few miles when we discovered the Enemy comming against us with 5000 Foot and 500 Horse—Our Number being Just 400—We at first sight thought it prudent to retire to a Neighbouring thicket where we formed and gave Battle, here my right hand man fell being Shot through the head—

1st Pennsylvania Battalion, 1775–1776, by Charles M. Lefferts. (Wikimedia Commons)

We were attacked by the Enemy’s Left Wing—whilst their right endeavoured to Surround us—with their Superior number we were obliged to retreat for a Small distance, when we again formed and fought with fortitude until we were nearly Surrounded having by this time Lost a great number of our men, we were again Forced to retreat, when we found that the Enemy had got between us and the Fort, Then Despairing of making good our Retreat we resolved to die rather than be taken prisoners and thus we were drove from place to place till 3 oClock P.M—when we agreed to attempt crossing the Mill pawn that being the alone way left for our Escape here numbers was drowned however it was the will of providence that I shou’d escape and at ½ after 3 We reached the Lines being very much fatigued—the Enemy advanced furiously and Endeavoured to force our Lines but were repulsed with considerable Loss—They afterwards marched towards the narrows where they Joined our 1st. Battn. the Delaware blues under the Command of Col. Hazlet.

These Battns. were chiefly cut off we were ordered to cover their retreat which exposed us in open field to a heavy Cannonade from the Enemy till Evening the remainder of our troops brought us 23 prisoners at Dark we were relieved and Order’d to St. George’s ferry to take a refreshment. Thus happened: the Memorable action on Long Island where the Enemy attacked and Defeated Lord Stirlings Brigade Consisting of the following Regts—Viz

Colo. Miles’s

Major Genl. Sullivan & Brigadier Genl Lord Stirling were both taken prisoners—Also, Colo. Miles Colo. Atllee & Lt. Colo. Piper all of our Regt. also—19 Commissoned officers 23 Serjeants and 310 Rank & file. My preversation I only attribute to the indulgent providence of God, for tho’ the bullets went round me in Every direction Yet I rec’d. not a wound—[13]

Augt. 28th. We marched to the Lines at dawn of the morning and there lay under Arms till 2 oClock P.M. when we were allarmed that the Enemy had come out of their Lines to attack us but going to the Summet of the hill we found the alarm false—and so returned to the ferry—We have had an incessant Cannonade these 4 Days past—We have the pleasing intelligence by Some of our men which was prisoners and got Escaping that the Loss of the Enemy is greater than Ours—

29th. Genl. Washington thinking it proper to Evacuate the Island we were all ordered to marche at 9 oClock P.M. We Crossed St. Georges ferry from Long Island and Came to New York with great speed and secrecy—

30th. A Flag of truce from the Enemy gives an account of number of our Officers being prisoners they request an Exchange—at 1 oClock P.M. we marched from Pleasant Hill proceeded past Kings brigge and arived at Mount Mifflin at Dark—

Septr. 1st. Having now Joined Genl. Mifflin’s Brigade we were all paraded by his orders where he Entertained us with a Political discourse wherein he Shewed the propriety of evacuating Long Island, together with the Evil Consequences which wou’d have attend the maintaining of it—here we remained without any thing worthy of record for several days. however Scarcely a Day but what we have two or three alarms insomuch that we have hade to wear our Accoutrements continually—

4th. The Enemy have now landed at Morrisseni which give Suspicion of an attack here They have unmoored their boats and are reinforced

Nothing worthy of record for several days

16 An attack this morning began with our troops Near Hellgate which continued for Some hours where in our troops drove the Enemy killed and wounded 500 of them our Loss not amounting to 100—and from the Quantity of blood found on the place of Battle we Suppose the Enemy carried numbers of their wounded with them—[14]

Septr. 17th. This morning the Enemy at Morrisseni attempted to Cross the Bank which Separates them from our troops but were repulsed by our Scouting party

19th. The 5th. Battn. Marched from Mount Mifflin to man the Lines at Fort Washington whilst a number of our troops Crossed Hudsons River expecting an attack on the Jersey Shore—

22nd Our Regt. marched from Mount Mifflin at 10 oClock A.M. and arived at Mount Washington at Noon—

23rd. At 11 oClock the Whole army at Mount Washington met on the Grand Parade in order to See a man Shot which had Evacuated his post in the battle the 16th. Inst. but after being on the pallar he was reprieved by his Excellency Genl. Washington—[15]

29th. We recd. intelligence at Midnight that the Enemy were advancing—we all paraded immediately and man’d the Lines but the Allarm was false—and at day-break we returned to our Encampment—

Octr. 9th. At 8 oClock 3 Men of war and three Tenders came up Hudsons River which occasioned a heavy Cannonade from all our Forts and Batteries near the Shore, however they got safe past.— We were all paraded and man’d the Lines but had no Engagement—

We are now Situate on the Bank of Hudson’s River 10 miles from New-York, two miles from Fort Washington, our Lines very advantageous being well fortified both by Nature and Art—

10th 120 men with Waggons were detached from our Brigade to take forrage from the Enemy’s Lines with an intent to bring on an attack we all man’d the Lines but the Enemy did not come out tho’ we looked for a Genl Engagement

11th. A Barge of Genl. Washingtons comming down Hudsons River was unfortunately taken for one of the Enemy’s by our Engineer at Fort Washington who fired an 18 pounder and killed 3 men a board the barge—[16]

Octr. 12th We were this morning allarmed that the Enemy were advancing to our lines. But after we man’d them, the allarm proved false—

14th. Genl. Lee arived at Head Quarters at Noon but hearing of an attack at West Chester Genl. Washington and he went to See the result—there are a number of fine troops in Genl Lee’s Escort.—

Part of the Fleet have come to the mouth of Harlem River.—

17th. We now recd. Orders to be in readiness to march to morrow morning at 8 oClock A.M—our Destination to us uncertain.—

18th. We were now informed of an attack at Frogs-Neck Yesterday where our troops Drove the Enemy with considerable Loss—we being apprehensive of an attack recd. orders to Strike Tents and transmit the Baggage to Fort Washington—Lest it shou’d fall into the hands of the Enemy.

Octr 20th We Marched from Fort Washington at 10 oClock A.M. and proceeded over Kingsbridge and Encamped in Philips’s Manor—

21 When the Dawn of Aurora were dispell’d by the Brighter beams of Phebus we marched from our Encampment at 8 preceeding right from White plains we reached our desired Haven at 2 oClock P.M.—The Road together with the Country from Fort Washington to White plains—very much diversified with hills—the inhabitans chiefly Tories—at 4 oClock P.M. 100 men properly Officered were Ordered from our Rifle men to be a Scouting party to patrole the Woods near the Enemys advanced Centries; we have recd. intelligence that the Enemy means to attack us at White plains in a few Days—their number is said to Consist of 30000—

Octr. 22nd. This is a Beutiful Little Town Situate on a Commodious plain. Just in the Center between Hudsons River and the Sound, 6 miles from Each 30 Miles from New-York, 15 miles from Kingsbridge and 12 from New Rochel—Bounded on the North by a Chane of hills and on the South a a [sic] beautiful Valley which extends to the Sound.—The Land fertile the air pleasant—the Inhabitants of a Ruddy complexion, but great number of them Tories, so that with regard to the inhabitants there are nothing agreeable—only a Multiplicity of Beautiful Young Ladies Equal in appearance to those of Great Britain—

23rd. Our Scouting party returned to us this morning at Revellie beating with 35 Prisoners only 1 of which was Regulars the remaind[er] Tories, the Enemy had 14 killed in the attack But unfortunately taking the Delaware blues for the Enemy we fired on Each other in which there was 6 of our Riflemen killed and 9 of the Delaware Blues—

Octr. 23rd [sic] 100 Rank & file with 1 Captn., 2 Subalterns and 3 Serjts. were ordered to make a Scouting party to Patrole the Thickets near the Enemy’s advanced Centries, we marched from Whileplains at 11 oClock P.M. right to their Advanced Centries, when Each officer Took a party of Men. I got 20 and proceeded in view of 2 Centries we got in between them undiscovered and Lay there a Considerable time and returned to Our rendezvous at Sun rise—and then proceeded to Camp—

26th We got orders now to prepare for a Genl. Attack as it is thought the Scene will be opened to morrow—

27th. 13 Walldeckers and 3 Regulars were brought in prisoners by our Scouting party—1 of the Walldeckers much Wounded—

Octr. 28th. We now have recd. an Express that the Enemy is furiously advancing in consequence of which all our troops were immediately under arms—Our Regt. were detached in Front to bring on the attack, with orders not to Endanger ourselves so as to be took prisoners.—when we had proceeded near 2 miles we descry’d them comming—They filed from Right to left we were attacked with right their Wing being all Hessians, we kept up with an incessant fire for near an hour when being informed from our flanking party that the Light horse were Surrounding us we were necessitated to Retreat to the Lines; their left Wing attacked a party of Ours at an advanced post on a Hill. Our troops behaved with great fortitude but being over powered by numbers were at last obliged to retreat to the Lines—The Enemy attempted to force our right Wing in the Lines but were put to a precipitate retreat back to the hill the attack Continued from 9 oClock A.M till 2 in the afternoon we have it from undoubted authority that the loss of the Enemy in killed and wound [sic] was 600, our loss did not exceed 50—At 10 oClock at night we marched from White plains about 4 miles and Encamped on a hill near Hudson’s River Suitable to Entrench upon Here our living was rendered uncomfortable for all our Baggage. together with our Tents and cooking Utensils were sent to North-Castle—[17]

Octr. 29th. We received an Express at 6 oClock A.M. that the Enemy were all round our Encampment which ocasioned us to get under Arms and march to a proper Eminence to view their motion but found the allarm false


[1] John Dwight Kilbourne, Virtutis Praemium: The Men Who Founded the State Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania (Rockport, ME: Picton Press, 1988), 1:604-609.


[3] Frances B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783 (Washington, DC: W. H. Lowdermilk, 1893).

[4] One of the letters from Lancaster is dated June 21, 1783, which means he could not have sailed for Ireland on March 20, 1783. Joseph M. Beatty, Jr., ed., “Letters from Continental Officers to Doctor Reading Beatty, 1781-83” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 54, (1930), 169-73.

[5] Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck, Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State Governments (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1996), XX; 356.

[6] Kilbourne, Virtutis Praemium, 609.

[7] A devotee of learning and scholarship.

[8] The Liverpool of twenty-eight guns and the Roebuck of forty-four guns. See the various volumes of the Naval Documents of the American Revolution for their service in American waters. For the recurring problems with Loyalists in Delaware, see Harold B. Hancock, The Loyalists of Revolutionary Delaware. (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1977).

[9] Lewis Farmer must have recovered from his delirium as he advanced to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before he retired on July 1, 1778.

[10] Without a dissenting vote.

[11] HMS Phoenix was a forty-four gun ship, accompanied by the twenty-two gun Rose. A British account gave a different story: “This Morning, the Wind being strong at N E and the Weather hazy, the Phoenix and the Rose, with two Tenders, came down the River, in Defiance of all the Efforts of the Rebels from Batteries, Cheveaux de Frize, &c. Not one of all their Shots struck the Phoenix, and but one or two the Rose, and those did but little Damage. One man only was wounded by a Splinter in the Leg. The Rebels kept up an incessant Fire from all their Guns, many of the Shot from which we saw falling very short of their objects. The Ships, on the other hand, returned a smart Fire, and came down, with Sails set and Colours flying, till they joined the Fleet.” Edward H. Tatum, Jr., ed., The American Journal of Ambrose Serle, Secretary to Lord Howe, 1776-1778 (San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1940; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1969), 67.

[12] There were many accounts of the severity of the storm. “Many houses were damaged and several lives lost. Three officers, a captain and two lieutenants, belonging to Colonel M’Dougal’s regiment, were instantly struck dead. The points of their swords, for several inches, were melted, with a few silver dollars they had in their pockets; they (the persons) were seemingly roasted. A dog In the same tent was also killed, and a soldier near it struck blind, deaf, and dumb. One in the main street was killed, as likewise ten on Long Island. Two or three were much burnt, and greatly hurt.” The Pennsylvania Journal, August 28, 1776.

[13] Recent works on the Battle of Brooklyn/Long Island include: George C. Daughan, Revolution on the Hudson: New York City and the Hudson River Valley in the American War of Independence, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016) and John J. Gallagher, The Battle of Brooklyn, 1776 (New York: Sarpedon, 1995).

[14] The Battle of Harlem Heights did a lot to restore the morale of the Continental Army. See Joshua Shepherd:

[15] See Joshua Shepherd:

[16] A Rhode Island soldier recorded: “as the Generals Barge was Returning Down the River where she hoisted an Uncomon Saile that she was not Known to wair was teaken for one of the Enemys Boats where upon the Gunner of one of the Batterys at Mount washinton was ordred to fire at her & Killed 3 men as they was sitting aft & wounded the Captian Slightly they was Landed at the ferey and Buried in one Grave.” Louise Rau, ed., “Sergeant John Smith’s Diary of 1776,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 20, no. 2 (1933): 247-70.

[17] McMichael’s casualty figures are badly out of line with other accounts.

One thought on “The James McMichael Journal, May 27, 1776–October 29, 1776

  • The James McMichael journal is in the Andre de Coppet Collection, CO063, at Firestone Library, Princeton University

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