J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A Raid on “a place called Paramus”

On 23 Mar 1780, Ens. George Eld of the Coldstream Guards’ light infantry company again went into battle against the rebels surrounding New York City again.

I’ve used Eld’s diary, published by the Boston Public Library, as a source for descriptions of some earlier skirmishes in 1780: at Hatfield’s house in Morrisania, at Young’s house near White Plains, and in a coffee house.

On the March 1780 operation, John U. Rees already wrote a detailed narrative and analysis with maps and pictures for the Continental Line: “‘So much for a Scotch Prize’: Paramus, New Jersey, 23 March 1780.” So I recommend reading that for an overview.

I’m just sharing Eld’s personal perspective on that fight as a junior officer.
March 23d.—At six in the evening a detachmt. of 600 commanded by Lt. Coll. [John] Howard marched to Spithim Devil creek, from whence at about ten they embarked in flat bottom boats and landed at 1/2 past twelve at Kloster lock in the Jersies—

having marched till seven in the morning I was sent forward with 60 Light Infantry to attack a rebel Picquet, on the right of the main body of the rebels who were advantageously posted & fortified in a Church Yard at a place called Paramus—the Picqt. was placed at the edge of a wood with a plain of half an mile in the rear,—

I surprized the Picq. which instantly fled & the most famous chase over the plain ensued—we were in at the death of seven.—I had given orders that my Party should not fire but use their Bayonets—notwithstanding the Main Body Being apprized of Coll. Howards attack, fled into the woods—

I fired at an Officer who was mounted, who to save himself cast away his saddle bags—which contained above 27.000 Dollars, paper Currny, orders, letters, &ca the dollars, (reserv a few thousd. for myself) I sold for a farthing each & distributed to the men—
Ens. Eld wasn’t alone in seizing valuables for himself. Rees quotes Pvt. Johann Dohla of the Bayreuth Regiment, who was on this same raid:
My booty, which I had been fortunate enough to retain, consisted of two silver pocket watches, three silver buckles, one pair of women’s white cotton stockings, one pair of men’s summer stockings, two men’s and four women’s shirts of fine English linen, two fine tablecloths, one silver food and tea spoon, five Spanish dollars and six York shillings in money, eleven complete mattress covers of fine linen, and more than two dozen pieces of silk fabric, as well as six silver plates and one silver drinking cup, all tied together in a pack which, because of the hasty march, I had to throw away.
But I digress. Back to Ens. Eld:
after a tiresome pursuit, I rejoined Coll. H. who immediately retreated—On our return which was by a different route, we were joined by a detachment of the 42d. Regt. & Hessians & 43d.—

The Rebels now collected & began to harrass our rear—I had the Command of the rear Guard—Capn. [Francis] Dundass flanked—the road in which we marched was wide & walled on each side—the road being a continuation of sudden hills—the main Body was little annoyed—& afforded me an opportunity of disputing each heighth—

the rebels made three charges & each time were repulsed—their loss was as ten to one—Coll. Howards retreat was so precipitate that he never once detached a party to my support; fortunately for me, the rebels now changed their attack to the left of our line of march—they now flanked from behind trees, &ca with the greatest security—the road on that side being open & a narrow & impassable swamp immediately adjoining it; thus we retreated, annoyed by a constant fire, with great loss—which produced a general confusion, Coll. Howard neglecting to give any orders—
One gets the sense that Eld was not happy with Col. Howard (shown above later in life, after he had succeeded to the Earldom of Suffolk).

TOMORROW: Ens. Eld on the bridge.

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