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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Friday, September 09, 2011

Major Box in Brooklyn

Maj. Daniel Box, once a sergeant in the British army who released himself on his own recognizance, became quite prominent in the Continental Army in the summer of 1776.

As a military administrator, he was a brigade-major for Gen. Nathanael Greene’s brigade, and then for Gen. John Nixon’s. He also laid out fortifications to defend New York. By June 1776, “Fort Box” stood alongside Fort Greene and Fort Putnam in Brooklyn. On 26 August, Gen. John Sullivan made Box his interim adjutant general.

And the next day, the British army swept past the American lines in the Battle of Brooklyn. They drove the Continentals off Long Island, coming close to trapping most of those troops. Capt. Stephen Olney of Rhode Island wrote:
Had it been left to the British Generals to make a disposition of our troops, it is a chance if they would have made it more advantageous to themselves, and but from their tardiness they might have taken our main fort. All that seemed to prevent it was a scarecrow row of palisades from the fort to low water in the cove, which Major Box had ordered set up that morning.
The Americans withdrew to Manhattan and tried to hold that island. In September, Box had his run-in on the Harlem plains with Ens. Matthew Macumber, as he described back here.

On 30 September, Greene’s orders stated: “Major Box is appointed & requested in conjunction with the Engineers of this Department & Col. [Thomas] Bull to oversee & forward the fortifications at Fort Constitution.” That encampment on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River was also called Fort Lee, the name that stuck. In early October, Box was still spending all his time there. On 16 Nov 1776, the British army swarmed over Fort Washington and captured all of Manhattan.

Gen. William Howe and his troops then chased the American army south through New Jersey. In December 1776, Maj. Daniel Box fell off a horse at Neshaminy Ferry, Pennsylvania, badly breaking his arm.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to Major Box?

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