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Knyphausen’s Attack on Connecticut Farms – Murder of Mrs. Caldwell

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

June 9.—Last Tuesday night, (6th,) between eleven and twelve o’clock, a body of the British, commanded by General Knyphausen in person, landed at Elizabethtown Point, in Jersey, who, being timely discovered by the American guards, gave the troops that were in town, commanded by Colonel Dayton, an opportunity to assemble; but, on reconnoitring them, their force was found inadequate for an attack. Of course a retreat became indispensable, which was performed in good order, with the enemy in their rear, until they arrived at Connecticut Farms, where they fell in with the Jersey brigade; and being joined by a few militia, posted themselves on an advantageous piece of ground, thinking it advisable to check the advance of the enemy, which, with singular bravery, they effectually did, and annoyed them considerably, driving them back some distance. The British then brought up some field-pieces which played briskly, but happily without any effect. The Americans kept them here about two hours, until they were reinforced by the second division, which had landed some time after the first, and had marched up hastily. They then gained that ground, though not without considerable loss, and some wounded on that of the Americans. Their advance after that was very tardy; yet they seemed to show an inclination to possess themselves of Springfield, until they received a few shot from a piece of cannon, not without some effect; which obliged them again to retreat, and the day was spent in continual skirmishing, by which they suffered amazingly. Since their retreat, forty or fifty of their dead, which they had secretly buried, have been found. Among the number it is said, is a son of Count Donop, who has met the fate of his hapless father.

As soon as they came to Connecticut Farms, seven miles from the place of their landing, they began the exercise of their awful cruelty. Although they observed great discipline and decorum in Elizabethtown, yet at the Farms every step was marked with wanton cruelty and causeless devastation. They set fire to, and entirely destroyed, the Presbyterian church, and fourteen dwelling-houses and barns, so that there are but two dwelling-houses remaining, in that fertile settlement. But, alas! this is only one part of the horrid scene.

In this neighborhood lived the Rev. Mr. James Caldwell, whose zeal and activity in the cause of his country had rendered him an object worthy of the enemy’s keenest resentment. His vigilance and attention had always evaded every attempt to injure him, and therefore it was now determined to wound him in an unguarded part. Following the absurd principles of too many of our incautious countrymen, he left his wife and family at home, trusting to the politeness and humanity of the enemy towards an amiable woman, and a number of helpless and innocent children, though he did not think it prudent to trust them with his own safety. He had been warned of their utmost hatred to him, and therefore dissuaded from leaving his family in their power; but, alas! his confidence in their benevolence towards the helpless has been his destruction.

Soon after their possessing themselves of the neighborhood, a soldier came to the house, and putting his gun to the window of the room where this worthy woman was sitting, (with her children, and a maid with an infant in her arms, along side of her,) he shot her through the lungs dead on the spot. Soon after an officer with two Hessians came in, and ordered a hole dug and her body thrown in, and the house to be set on fire. At the earnest request of an officer of the new levies, and with some difficulty, the body was suffered to be carried to a small house in the neighborhood, and Mr. Caldwell’s dwelling-house immediately set on fire, and every thing belonging to him consumed together. The only comfort arising to this afflicted family is, that the wretch who served as the executioner of this murdered lady, (who, from her excellent character, deserved a better fate,)1 did his business so effectually that she lost her life without distress or pain. Thus it is, that even the tender mercies of the wicked are cruelty. This melancholy affair, with their cruel burnings, has raised the resentment of the whole country to the highest pitch. They are ready almost to swear an everlasting enmity to the very name of a Briton. So far is this cruelty and devastation from terrifying them to submission, that it rouses the most timid to feats of desperate heroism. A most worthy man, who has for four years past devoted himself to the service of his country, is thus left with nine small children, destitute even of a shift of clothes to comfort them. Many of the inhabitants are in a similar situation; some widows, some aged, some infirm.

The British being opposed by a regiment of Colonel Dayton’s, and such militia as could be suddenly collected, made a slow advance till they came to a bridge at the entrance of Springfield, where the militia had an old iron four-pound fieldpiece, which they used to such purpose that the enemy were driven back for some considerable distance. Being thus encouraged, Colonel Dayton’s regiment, and the militia together, pressed upon them, and killed and wounded many of them: the general estimate is about one hundred. As our people were reinforced they gained firmness, and at night the enemy had secured no farther than Connecticut Farms. In the night, having received an express from General Clinton in South Carolina, they immediately began a retreat; and by ten o’clock on Thursday, they had gained Elizabethtown Point, from whence they sent off all their wagons, a part of their artillery, and some of their cavalry. Lord Stirling, with General Hand’s brigade, and the militia, was detached close on their rear, and between Elizabethtown and the Point had a very severe skirmish, with some loss on both sides. From what we can collect from the inhabitants of the Farms, many of whose houses were filled with their wounded, they must have suffered considerably. General Stirling had his thigh broken. Never did troops behave better than the Americans. The militia behaved beyond any thing that could have been expected. The Continental officers gave them the greatest credit. It is said the enemy had been persuaded that after the taking of Charleston, the militia would all submit, and the Continental troops would desert. It seems as if the militia had known these suggestions. Never did they so universally turn out on such short notice, and never with better spirits. This morning at least two thousand of them were below the mountains, and more flocking down continually. Colonel Dayton deserves the greatest credit, as do all his officers, who behaved unexceptionably.

The British were all day yesterday manoeuvring to bring on a general engagement, and General Washington was trying to draw them from their strong position on the Point, where it was impossible to attack them with advantage. Both have failed, and General Washington hath drawn back the main body of the army above Springfield to refresh them, as they are exceedingly fatigued with two days and two nights lying on their arms. Every thing has been carried on with great propriety, and we are in hopes their gentry will be obliged to retire, notwithstanding their sanguine expectations. General Knyphausen, it is said, brought over his carnage, expecting to have considerable use for it. There is a brigade left to watch their motions at Elizabethtown, with a number of the militia. They are in such force that it is supposed they intend to penetrate the country, and from some hints that have dropped, they have Pennsylvania in their eye, if they can beat General Washington.2


1 Never did religion produce a more complete triumph than in this virtuous woman. Her constitution was by nature feeble and delicate, and her mind ornamented more with tender than robust passions; yet such was her confidence in the unerring wisdom and perfect rectitude of the divine conduct—such the full assurance of her hope, that the approach of such an enemy, with the terrors of war, could neither cloud her countenance nor ruffle her mind to the last moment. Long since had she gained complete victory over the king of terrors; and only wished to live for the good of others, and in particular that she might impress her image upon her lovely offspring as they advanced in life. These benevolent views are now terminated by the British murderers.—New Jersey Journal, June 14.
2 Pennsylvania Packet, June 13.