The history of the King's American Regiment is presented in 8 parts. Click below to skip to:
Part 1 - Introduction & Recruiting a Regiment
A History of the King's American Regiment - Part 5 of 8
Raiders & Refugees 1779
After the excitement of the Siege of Newport, life settled into a garrison routine for the KAR and the rest of the garrison there. A routine of guard duty and work details was occasionally enlivened by chasing a deserter or fishing.
Henry NASE noted in his journal that fish were so abundant that a soldier might walk along the shore and simply spear fifty with the ramrod of his musket.49 That winter also saw the sudden death by illness of the formerly lucky Captain John McALPINE, who was buried in Newport with the honors of war on 24 February 1779.50
While the regiment remained mostly idle that winter, another group of Loyalists made their presence felt in the Newport. George LEONARD, a wealthy Massachusetts Loyalist and one of the refugees from Boston in 1776, devised a plan to operate a fleet of both privateers and transport ships, manned with Loyalist sailors and carrying armed Loyalist refugees on board, to raid the New England coast.
While LEONARD provided the capital, he used people like Edmund FANNING and Edward WINSLOW to organize the land component of his new group, called the Loyal Associated Refugees. This group was not a Provincial regiment and therefore did not receive pay or uniform clothing. They did draw arms and ordnance stores from the government, but little more than that.
However, they were instrumental in providing the garrison with cattle, provisions and firewood, taking it from the Rebels and paying for it from Loyalists. Their boldest excursion was to negotiate a supply contract with Martha's Vineyard without any hostilities.
One joint operation between the Provincials and the Refugees took place between 30 March and 6 April 1779 to Bedford (modern New Bedford), Massachusetts. A Detachment consisting of the Grenadier Company of the King's American Regiment under Captain DePEYSTER, twenty seven or more men from the Loyal New Englanders under Lieutenant Richard HOLLAND, and Governor Wentworth's Volunteers under Captain Daniel MURRAY, joined the Refugees, embarking on board transports and the Refugee Privateer General Leslie on 31 March 1779.51
The detachment was ordered to proceed to Bedford, where they were to occupy the town, destroy all public stores, barracks, store houses, etc. They were to man all the Rebel vessels captured at the wharves or in the harbor, after which they were immediately to return to Newport. DePeyster's Company was to be in the front throughout the expedition, as undoubtedly the best troops on the expedition.52
The expedition failed due to the wind not allowing the ships to enter the harbor and the Rebels gathering in large numbers to oppose them. They sailed off to Falmouth, where the privateers bombarded the town for two hours. After making a show of landing, they sailed back to Newport, having alarmed a lot of towns, but achieving little else.53
On 12 June 1779 the regiment was informed that its time spent at Newport would come to an end. Accordingly, the regiment embarked on board the transport Diana to sail back to New York.54 They had literally not gotten off the ship, when they were placed under the command of their old friend William TRYON, and joined to an expedition of British and Hessian troops off to raid Connecticut.
Sir Henry CLINTON instructed TRYON to launch a series of devastating raids against the shipping and stores at New Haven, Milford, Fairfield and Stratford. CLINTON's aim was to "annoy the Rebels much, deter their Militia from Assembling, and...knowing what there is [in the harbor of New London]."55
The KAR, brigaded with the 23rd Regiment of Foot and the Hessian Regiment of Landgrave, landed on the east side of New Haven on the morning of 5 July 1779. Another detachment of troops under General GARTH landed on the west side of town earlier that same morning.
The troops immediately captured an artillery piece and then attacked a three gun work known as the Rock Battery. The troops then fought their way into town under a heavy and continual fire. The troops kept possession of the town that night, the next day burning all the public stores, ordnance and shipping that they could not carry away.
The day had cost the KAR dearly though. They had lost Ensign & Adjutant William WATKINS to a musket ball which had entered his left breast, killing him almost immediately.56 In addition, the regiment suffered the loss of one sergeant and six rank and file wounded.57
The troops reembarked the next afternoon and sailed for Fairfield, where they arrived on the 8th of July. The troops again landed in two divisions and remained on shore over night, engaging in much fire with the Rebels. The next morning they burned the town in retaliation for the opposition they received and embarked on more of their shipping. This landing had cost the KAR two rank and file killed, four wounded and one missing.58
The fleet sailed accordingly for Lloyd's Neck where they re–supplied themselves, proceeding from there to Norwalk. The troops landed at Norwalk under a heavy fire, capturing two flags during the fighting. Again, whatever stores could not be brought off were burned, along with most of the town.
The bulk of that day's fighting devolved on the 7th Regiment of Foot, leaving the KAR with only two rank and file wounded for their part in the battle.59 News of the burning of the towns reached CLINTON, who feared that it would be counterproductive to British interests in the long run, and ordered TRYON's party to return to New York immediately.60
After the excitement and losses of these raids, the regiment would retire to the relative calm of garrison duty around New York. The regiment was quickly rushed to Stony Point to re–occupy the works after the Continental General Anthony Wayne had captured the post by surprise during the night. They would spend July through 20 October 1779 sharing the duty of Stony Point and Verplank's Point, on opposite sides of the Hudson River.
Upon the evacuation of these posts, the regiment sailed down river to Brooklyn, where it landed and marched to Lloyd's Neck, the principal British outpost in Suffolk County, Long Island.61 Here it would remain idle while bigger events happened elsewhere.
They would not be left out forever though.
49 Nase Diary, 27 May 1779, NBM.
Click here for ---> Regimental History Main Page
The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies