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Attack on Major Boyles

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

April 17.—Yesterday morning, a detachment of two hundred Continental troops, under the command of Major Boyles, of the Pennsylvania line, stationed at Paramus, in Jersey, was suddenly attacked by a party of the enemy, consisting of about two hundred horse, and four hundred foot. The attack commenced a little after sunrise. Major Boyles, besides his usual patroles, had that morning sent out two parties, each with a commissioned officer; but such is the situation of that part of the country, intersected with roads, and inhabited chiefly by disaffected people, that all precautions failed. His parties and patroles were eluded, and the sentinels near his quarters were the first that gave notice of the enemy’s approach. He had just before paraded and dismissed his men. The advance of the horse was so rapid, that no time was left to reassemble them. The major had no resource but the defence of the house he was in; this, therefore, with only a small quarter-guard, he resolved to attempt, though from the smallness of his force, and its entire disproportion to the place he was defending, he could have no prospect of success; but chose rather to fall in a brave, though hopeless resistance, than to save himself by a dishonorable surrender. He immediately made the best disposition the hurry of the moment would permit, and animated his men by his exhortation and example. A brisk fire ensued on both sides; the house was soon surrounded on every part, and no effort of the little party seemed capable of hindering the enemy from forcing their way. Some of the men, intimidated by so threatening a scene, began to cry for quarter; others, obeying the commands of their officers, continued to fire from the windows. The enemy without, upbraided them with the perfidy of asking quarter and persisting in resistance, desiring them to come out and they would quarter them. Major Boyles, exclaiming in a determined tone, denied his having called for quarter; but his resolution could not avail, a surrender took place, and, in the act, the major received a mortal wound in the left breast, with which he expired, a victim to his gallantry and refined sense of duty. So distinguished and enviable a fall must endear his memory to his fellow-soldiers and fellow-citizens. Lieutenants Glentworth and Sherman had thrown themselves into the major’s quarters, and assisted in the defence. They displayed great activity and bravery. The latter was wounded.

Such part of the detachment as could be collected together, aided by a few spirited militia, hung close upon the rear of the enemy during their retreat, and harassed them with a continual fire, re-taking four wagons with plunder, and nineteen horses. Lieutenant Bryson, being a few days before detached by Major Boyles with a small party to the New Bridge, defended that post for some time with great gallantry and coolness, he sustaining in person, with his espontoon, the attack of four horsemen, and receiving several wounds; but, being overpowered with numbers, he surrendered to one of their officers. It is said he received marks of politeness from them, on account of the great bravery and deliberate courage displayed by him during the skirmish.

The enemy, agreeable to their usual mode of procedure, plundered and burnt the house and mill of Mr. John Hopper, and that of his brothers. In the former the family of Mr. Abraham Brasher lived, who, with the rest, were left almost destitute of a second change of clothes. The commanding officer, being requested by Mrs. Brasher on her knees to spare the house, damned her, and bid her be gone, declaring they all deserved to be bayoneted. They made their boasts, that as Major Boyles did not present the hilt of his sword in front, when surrendering, they shot him. Thus died this brave and gallant officer, a victim to their savage cruelty. The loss of the Americans killed, wounded, and taken, was one major, two captains, four lieutenants, and about forty rank and file. That of the enemy, by their own acknowledgment, near as many.1


1 Pennsylvania Packet, May 23.


  1. Sir,
    I have the honour to report that I have been doing research on a particular Rev War soldier for decades, and in a recent Google search I came upon your site and the entry about Paramus, NJ of 16 April 1780. Of the four junior officers mentioned being captured, one was my soldier – 1st Lt John Bryson of the Seventh Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, Pennsylvania Continental Line. Why “mine”? John Bryson is my 5th great-grandfather. There are scant official records concerning his military service – 2 Consolidateded Service Record cards, a listing of officers in the 7th, and the listing of officers captured by the British in the NY/NJ/PA area between 1776-1780 – all from the National Archives and now also on Fold3.
    Your “diary” entry is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone discuss his military exploits. I was exceedingly happy to find this tidbit about his service. As a retired Navy officer, I can better appreciate his service and sufferings. Thank you for posting it.
    I went one step further. I wanted to know more about the Major killed and the others taken. So I went to two sources. Fold3 to check Consolidated Service Record entries (National Archives Record Group 93, M881 microfilm series) and regimental records (Record Group 93, M246 microfilm series) and the original newspaper letter. Luckily the National Archives records are online and fully searchable at Fold3. Since you had a date of the original newspaper article, I also read the original in the Pennsylvania Packet (on I thought you’d like to know just a bit more about these officers.
    The others captured were: 1st Lt James Glintworth (6th Pennsylvania Infantry), Capt. Isaac Seely (5th Penna Infantry), and Capt. Jacob Wever/Weaver (10th Penna Infantry). All were part of the Pennsylvania Brigade, Continental Line – as was their Major. Turns out that the Major’s name is not Boyles, but rather Major Thomas L Byles, originally from the 3rd Penna Infantry.
    As to “my” Lt – John Bryson was paroled and returned to his family in Washington Co., Pennsylvania where he remained the rest of his long life, passing on in Nov 1822.
    Thanks again for reprinting this interesting tidbit that makes him come alive.
    Your Most Humble, Grateful & Obedient Servant, etc.
    Paul A. “Trip” Wiggins, LCDR USN (Ret.)
    Fredericksburg, VA (boyhood home of our Commander in Chief, Gen’l Washington)

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