Searching for Samuel’s Service: Stories of the Revolution Revealed Through One Man

"A view of the attack against Fort Washington and rebel redouts near New York on the 16 of November 1776 by the British and Hessian brigades," by Thomas Davies, 1776. Fort Washington would be renamed Fort Knyphausen. (New York Public Library)

The American Revolution was perhaps America’s first civil war—a dispute that forced neighbors to choose between country and King; to declare themselves Patriots or Loyalists. Modern Americans might be tempted to only focus on the Patriots’ side of events, but I have discovered that by investigating the Loyalists, an ensemble of characters with connections to major events throughout the Revolution—and American history itself—emerges to broaden the story.

In the years following the American Revolution, many Loyalists fled to present-day Canada to remain under the British flag and obtain land as compensation for their service and losses.

A registry of names was thus created, “to put a Marke of Honor upon the families who had adhered to the Unity of the Empire, and joined the Royal Standard in America before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783.”[1] This became the U.E. List, which recognized settlers who served the Crown (most often through military service) and ensured their children were eligible for land grants as they came of age or married.

While most names in the U.E. List belonged to soldiers, occasionally the name of a soldier’s widow appears. Widows were often given few details regarding their husband’s service, and the particulars of their involvement in the war become lost to history. Such was the case of one Samuel Babcock, a British soldier who died under unknown circumstances during the war, and his widow, Rachel of Warwick, Orange County, New York. I wanted to know the story behind Samuel, and find out how he met his end.

The Upper Canada Land Petitions contain a bevy of information about Loyalist families and their relationships to one another, and were an obvious place to start. From Rachel Babcock’s Upper Canada Land Petition, made in Adolphustown, 1797:

The memorial of Rachael Babcock Humbly Sheweth That your memorialist’s husband joined the British army in New York in the year 1776 that he afterward, and before the conclusion of the war died in the British Service and left your memorialist a disconsolate widow with a large family of children without any support to lament his loss. That soon after the conclusion of the late war your memorialist removed with her family into this country in order to make a settlement in same, and being now settled therein humbly prays, that in consequence of her husband’s services, your honor would be pleased to order her an assignment of Two hundred acres of land, in any part of this Province not already Located, and your Honour’s memorialist as in duty bound will ever pray.[2]

This petition was not lodged in the Council Office until 1807. Rachel now required additional evidence to be included in the U.E. List, and sought out affidavits to support her claim. The first affidavit came from Capt. Peter Ruttan, who brought at least fifty men into the 4th Battalion of New Jersey Volunteers and raised a further forty with the King’s Orange Rangers:[3]

Capt. Peter Rutan of Adolphustown personally appear before me Thomas Dorland Esq. and maketh oath that he was well acquainted with Samuel Babcock and that he joined the British Army in New York in the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy six and that he, this said Samuel, afterwards and before the conclusion of the war, died in British Service and left a widow with a large family. He further swears that Rachel Babcock now living in Camden is widow to the aforesaid Samuel Babcock who in the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety one moved into this Province with a large family of children and has resided therein ever since.[4]

The second affidavit came from Rachel’s son-in-law, William Lewis, husband of Elizabeth Babcock.[5] Of his father-in-law, he stated, “Samuel Babcock join the Royal Standard at New York in the year 1776 and after that and by the end of the war he died and left a widow and seven children who moved to this Province of Upper Canada . . . and continue here ever since.”[6]

Rachel testified in kind for William Lewis’s petition in 1809:

Rachel Babcock Maketh Oath that William Lewis of Camden was a Soldier in Col. William Bayard’s Regt. of Loyalists in New York and that he was sent from New York on secret service to the Jersey and was taken Prisoner at Closter and carried to New City Gaol in the year 1777 and in the beginning of 1778 he was released by Governor Clinton and permitted to go to his own home and remain within the limits of three miles.[7]

This gives us our first major clue as to Samuel’s possible service: from Lewis’s own testimony, we know he served in Lieut. Col. John Bayard’s regiment in the British army.[8] Bayard commanded the King’s Orange Rangers, a Loyalist Regiment formed in December 1776 by his father, William Bayard.

William Bayard (1729-1804) was a prosperous merchant and head of the leading mercantile house, William Bayard & Company, in New York.[9] An extensive landowner in both New York and New Jersey, he was a descendant of French Huguenots with familial connections to the prominent Livingston, Schuyler, Stuyvesant, Van Cortlandt, and Van Rensselaer families—all of whom had great historical impact on pre-revolutionary America and its development.

Born in New York, Bayard was originally a sympathizer to the American cause, and was elected as a delegate to the 1765 Stamp Act Congress to help devise a unified protest again British taxation. When war came, however, his conservative nature would ultimately not permit him to break from the Crown.

With the creation of the Provincial Service in 1776, the British had to form new regiments quickly and cheaply. Rich, prominent local men were encouraged to raise and command their own units, the idea being they could partially finance the regiments while adding a touch of celebrity to bring in new recruits. The fact that they had little in the way of military experience was often overlooked.[10]

Bayard, however, was a former colonel of the Orange County Militia, hence the name of his regiment, the King’s Orange Rangers. Though he would not serve in any military capacity, he named one of his sons, John Bayard, to be lieutenant colonel of the regiment, and another, Samuel Vetch Bayard, to be a captain. The rank and file of the King’s Orange Rangers were formed primarily from inhabitants of Orange County, New York, and given the information available, it is reasonable to suppose Samuel Babcock served in this regiment.

If we look further back to the Orange County region at the time of the French and Indian War, a Samuel Babcock, aged twenty-four, appears on the muster roll of the New York Provincial troops under Capt. Andreas Underdunk in 1759. His place of birth is recorded as “Tappan” and his trade is listed as “turner” (a lathe operator). Three other Babcocks appear on Underdunk’s 1759 muster roll as well: David Babcock, thirty-six, born in Newarktown; William Babcock, forty, born in Kakiat; and James Babcock, twenty-eight, born in Haverstraw.[11]

In 1760, Samuel Babcock enlisted with David Babcock in Capt. James Howel’s company. Samuel is described as a “Labourer, 6’0 ¾” Brown hair Pock Marked.”[12] (Absent from this company are William and James Babcock, but there is a William Lewis, age forty, born in Ireland—quite possibly William Lewis’ father.)

Armed with this information, we now look to the musters of the King’s Orange Rangers: William Babcock, James Babcock, and Samuel Babcock are all listed in Capt. John Coffin’s Company of the King’s Orange Rangers commanded by Lieut. Col. John Bayard on the muster rolls taken at Paulus Hook (now Jersey City) in August 1777 and February 1778 at Fort Knyphausen.

An outbreak of smallpox was ravaging Fort Knyphausen in January 1778. Fort Knyphausen (formerly Fort Washington) was located on the highest natural point of northern Manhattan, just across the Hudson River from Fort Lee in New Jersey. The situation of the garrison was precarious, as described in this letter from Major Geurt DeWint of the King’s Orange Rangers:

I have now the honor to represent to Your Excellency the Unhappy situation of this Regiment, with regard to the Small Pox, which Disorder is raging to a most Violent and mortal degree, and of course will spread over the whole Provincial Line unless timely prevented.
As there are a large number particularly in this Regimt. who have not had it, and desirous of having it by Innoculation, as that in all probability will decreas the mortality, I beg your Excellency will direct me how to proceed as to this Regiment.
The Surgeon represents to me that from their living so long on Salt provisions, their Blood must undoubtly be in a very Corrupted State and from thence unless prepared by Innoculation the disorder must prove fatal to many.

The Surgeon further adds that he can prepare them in the Barracks, and send them down to the General Hospital before the Fever comes on without danger.[13]

The next muster after this event in February 1778 contains an error: Samuel Babcock’s name is listed under the column of the dead with the note, “Jan 24,” but was then crossed out. If you’ll recall, the 1760 description of him says that he was “pock marked,” describing the residual effects of smallpox—small indentations in the skin where the individual smallpox sores had been. This means that Babcock had smallpox prior to 1760, making him immune to the disease when it swept through his regiment at Fort Knyphausen.

Babcock appears alive and present on the next muster taken at Fort Knyphausen in April 1778. After April 1778, he was transferred to Capt. Andrew Drier Barclay’s company at Harlem, and his death is recorded on the June Muster Roll as June 12, 1778.[14]

Crucially, another Samuel Babcock appears on the muster roll of Capt. Daniel Bessonett’s Company in the 4th Battalion of New Jersey Volunteers, commanded by Lieut. Col. Abraham Buskirk, prepared at Staten Island in January 1778; on that roll, Babcock is listed as absent due to smallpox.[15] The error made on the February muster at Fort Knyphausen has caused many researchers to theorize that the two Samuel Babcocks are one and the same, but this is most certainly a different Samuel Babcock than the one who served in the KOR.

This second Samuel Babcock ended up volunteering for service in Capt. Patrick Ferguson’s American Volunteers, a temporary corps made up of volunteers from seven Provincial battalions at New York City to serve at the Siege of Charleston. The 175 officers and men (40 of whom came from the 4th Battalion of NJV) were to serve at the siege, and then return to their battalions at New York. Ferguson, however, received permission to keep the corps together in South Carolina, where they trained loyalist militia and engaged in minor skirmishes with the rebels. The corps met its end on October 7, 1780, when they were mostly killed, wounded, or captured by over 1,000 rebel woodsmen atop King’s Mountain.[16]

The problem is, no one took any notice of their casualties once they arrived in the South. Eventually, the missing were simply listed as “prisoners” on the muster rolls of their New York battalions, though what actually happened to them was anyone’s guess. In 1781, the New Jersey Volunteers were reorganized and the 4th Battalion became the new 3rd Battalion. On the muster of Major Philip Van Cortland’s company, Samuel Babcock is listed as a prisoner up to March 1783.[17] After that, he disappears from the records.

Since the American Volunteers were not established until 1779 and were essentially decimated in 1780, I am confident that the Samuel Babcock who served in the New Jersey Volunteers and the American Volunteers is not our Samuel Babcock. The Samuel Babcock we are concerned with is the one who served in the King’s Orange Rangers and died at Harlem, New York City, on June 12, 1778, of an unknown cause.

What is so interesting about studying the Loyalists is that invariably, a Patriot follows close behind—they are inextricably linked. One of Samuel’s daughters even married a former Patriot! In 1777, David Kelly enlisted in the Continental Army at Ramapo—meaning he fought for the Americans during the war, not the British. Kelly survived the war, and married Mary Babcock in 1784 at the home of William Lewis in Bellvale (a hamlet of Warwick), Orange County, New York. He went to Upper Canada with his wife’s family, and would cross Lake Ontario into Jefferson County, New York to collect his pension.

Even William Bayard, commander of the King’s Orange Rangers, had a son with patriotic leanings: William Bayard, Jr. was a respected banker and close friends with Alexander Hamilton. He was also the only Bayard to have remained in New York following the war—the others having fled either to England or Nova Scotia where the King’s Orange Rangers were disbanded. Following Alexander Hamilton’s duel with Aaron Burr in 1804, Hamilton was brought to William Bayard, Jr.’s Greenwich Village home, where he died the following day.

David Kelly, Samuel’s son-in-law, served as a private soldier in Capt. John Sanford’s company of Malcolm’s Regiment under command of Col. William Malcom and Lt. Col. Arron Burr.[18] By investigating Samuel, we are now only two degrees away from the infamous duel between Burr and Hamilton!

So, there you have it. Samuel Babcock was born about 1735 in Tappan, New York, and worked as a lathe tuner. He had brown hair, smallpox scars, and was just over six feet tall. He served in the King’s Orange Rangers and witnessed the smallpox epidemic at Fort Knyphausen, only to die at Harlem five months later. I’d learned all I could about Samuel, but I discovered so much more. Disease, battles, inter-family politics . . . the events that make up this chapter in history are so much more complex than we ever realized. By thoroughly investigating one person—even a common, Loyalist private—you open a window to the stories of the Revolution.

The author wishes to acknowledge the land referenced in this article: the land between Kingston and Napanee in Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) was the original homeland of the Anishinabewaki, Haudenosaunee, and Mississauga peoples, and the land in New York State was the original homeland of the Munsee Lenape.

[1]United Empire Loyalists Centennial Committee, The centennial of the settlement of Upper Canada by the United Empire Loyalists, 1784-1884; the celebrations at Adolphustown, Toronto and Niagara, with an appendix, containing a copy of the U.E. List, preserved in the Crown Lands Department at Toronto (Toronto: Rose Publishing Co., 1885), 127-128.

[2]Upper Canada Land Petition of Rachel Babcock (hereafter referred to as UCLP of), Ref.RG 1 L3, Vol. 35, Bundle B 8, Petition 111, Microfilm C-1622 (Library and Archives Canada, hereafter referred to as LAC), 371.

[3]Alfred E. Jones, “The Loyalists of New Jersey,”Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society; Vol. X (Newark: New Jersey Historical Society, 1927), 182.

[4]UCLP of Rachel Babcock, Ref. RG 1 L3, Vol. 35, Bundle B 8, Petition 111, Microfilm C-1622 (LAC), 375.

[5]UCLP of Elizabeth Lewis, Ref. RG 1 L3, Vol. 286, Bundle L 9, Petition 12, Microfilm C-2126 (LAC), 171.

[6]UCLP of Rachel Babcock, Ref. RG 1 L3, Vol. 35, Bundle B 8, Petition 111, Microfilm C-1622 (LAC), 373.

[7]UCLP of William Lewis, Ref. RG 1 L3, Vol. 286, Bundle L 9, Petition 18, Microfilm C-2126 (LAC), 197.

[8]Ibid.,194.

[9]Lorenzo Sabine,Biographical Sketches of Loyalists of the American Revolution, with an Historical Essay (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1864), 232.

[10]Stuart Salmon, The Loyalist Regiments of the American Revolutionary War 1775-1783 (PhD diss., University of Stirling, 2009), 53, 99, Appendix 2.

[11]New-York Historical Society, “Muster Rolls of the New York Provincial Troops, 1755-1764,”Collections of the New-York Historical Society for the Year 1891 (New York: Printed for the Society, 1892), 160-161.

[12]State Historian of the State of New York, “New York Colonial Muster Rolls, 1664-1775, Vol. II,”Third Annual Report of the State Historian of the State of New York, Appendix “M” (Albany: 1898; Reprinted Baltimore: Clearfield Company, 1999), 614-615.

[13]Geurt DeWint to William Tryon, January 7, 1778, Sir Henry Clinton Papers, 1750-1838, Vol. 30, Item 6 (William L. Clements Library, Ann Arbor, MI), royalprovincial.com.

[14]British Military and Naval Records, RG 8, “C” Series, Vol. 1908, Microfilm C-4224 (LAC), 310, 323, 357, 379.

[15]British Military and Naval Records, RG 8, “C” Series, Vol. 1858, Microfilm C-4216 (LAC), 486.

[16]Draper, Lyman C., King’s Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King’s Mountain, October 7th, 1780, and the Events Which Led to It (Cincinnati: Peter G. Thomson, 1881).

[17]British Military and Naval Records, RG 8, “C” Series, Vol. 1857, Microfilm C-4216 (LAC), 398.

[18]Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, Widow’s Pension Application File W 11993,Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15, NARA Microfilm M804, Roll 1466 (National Archives, Washington, D.C.).

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2 Comments

  • I am a descendant of a loyalist on both my father and mother’s side. My father’s ancestor and his brother served in the S.C. Militia at Kings Mountain and later at the siege of 96 in 1781. Their Loyalist claims mention nothing of their service at either battle which is curious. They went on to settle in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick where I am today, proudly a Canadian. Their reasons for supporting the King may be a complicated one especially due to the fact that they had been forced to support the Patriot Government in its early days. The American Revolution was indeed the first Civil War in America.

  • Fabulolus.
    Just learning about Cadwalader as I tour the “Ten Crucial Days” sites at Washington Crossing, PA and Trenton and Princeton. BTW, a real gem is the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton.
    It’s a restored French and Indian War barracks with compact but comprehensive display areas covering the war around Trenton, the F & I War, and a unique exhibit illustrating how determined women battled to preserve the Old Barracks over the last century. Interpreters in colonial garb, not always my favorite thing, here are well read, well prepared and personally engaging.
    Of special note: pictures and text explaining who and what the Hessians were, and dispelling the myth, perpetrated by the Washington Crossing tour guide, that they were “mercenaries” as the word is commonly understood. Jawohl!

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