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The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies

New Jersey Volunteers
The Wartime Adventures of Lt. James Moody

Following is the text of a lecture given in the March, 2001 chat at The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies.


James Moody is one of those people who, had the British won the war, would have been remembered through the years, memorialized in folklore and tall tales.

As it is, even though the British lost, James is still remembered in history well enough to have had a new book published on him this past year.

Moody was born in 1744 in New Jersey. He was a farmer from Knowlton Township, Sussex County.

For those unfamiliar with New Jersey, Sussex is in the northwest corner of the state. In the 18th Century it also included a part of what is now Hunterdon County.

Moody was not one of those Loyalists who spoke out early in the war or joined the British on their arrival. He was content to stay at home with his wife and let the war go on without him. That is, until a party of Rebels attacked him on his farm early in 1777.

At that time, Joseph Barton, a leading Loyalist from Sussex County, was raising the 5th Battalion of New Jersey Volunteers. The NJV was the largest Loyalist regiment raised during the war, consisting of six battalions. Barton's battalion consisted of about 250-275 officers and men recruited chiefly from Sussex County.

After the incident on his farm, Moody joined with about 70 others from the county who made their way to the British lines on Staten Island, where they mostly joined the 5th NJV. Moody himself enlisted as a private but quickly received a warrant as an ensign. Ensign was the equivalent of a 2nd Lieutenant.

Moody returned into the countryside to recruit further in the early summer of 1777. At this time, the main British Army under General Howe was still operating in the neighborhood of New Brunswick, NJ.

Moody claims that along the Delaware, in both New Jersey & Pennsylvania, he had recruited upwards of 500 men to join Howe when he marched into the countryside. Howe, however, marched his army to Staten Island and embarked for the Chesapeake to attack Philadelphia instead. Moody relates that this confounded their plan, and he could only prevail upon about 100 men to come with him to Staten Island.

They got close but didn't make it. The party was intercepted, possibly betrayed by one of their own. Over forty were captured. The rest, save for Moody and a handful of men, scattered back home.

Over the next year Moody returned back into the country and brought in whatever new Loyalists he could recruit. He even went so far out into Pennsylvania that he made contact with the forces under the famous Major John Butler.

By 1779 Moody was a properly commissioned ensign in the 1st Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers. This battalion was made up of the old 1st and 5th battalions, which had been joined together in April of 1778. The Sussex men of the 5th battalion now served side by side with the Monmouth men of the 1st.

Moody and his friend Lieutenant William Hutchison led an actual raid into the 1st battalion's old home - Monmouth. On 10 June 1779, the two NJV officers led a mixed bag of NJ Volunteers, Refugees, Sailors, and recruiting officers of the King's American Rangers, who were formerly NJV officers.

Moody's plan was to capture some of the principal militia officers and liberate some Rebel cattle from the neighborhood of Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury, like much of Monmouth County, is along the Jersey Shore.

Moody's force came down from Staten Island to Sandy Hook by boat, and there awaited favorable tide to strike the shore. This they affected well, capturing several officers in their homes and a number of cattle.

On their return, the Rebel militia collected and pursued them. Covering the retreat of the bulk of his party along with their prisoners and cattle, Moody held out against greater numbers until their ammunition was almost expended. Moody himself recounts shooting down a Rebel officer who was in the midst of swearing at him from across the field!

Having no other recourse, Moody led the remnants of his force in a bayonet charge, which had the desired effect of clearing the field of the enemy. A truce was called, the wounded tended to, and the survivors of both sides made their way home unmolested.

Over the next year Moody would again be in the country. In one typical episode he was so fortunate as to peruse the books of the Rebel commissary general, thereby ascertaining the numbers of Washington's Army.

In December of 1779, a large part of the British army sailed south to attack Charlestown, SC. This force was commanded by the British Commander in Chief Sir Henry Clinton, leaving NY under the charge of a Hessian officer, Lt. Genl. Knyphausen. Knyphausen was by all accounts a more daring and spirited officer than Clinton was, and immediately went to work beating up the outposts of the Rebels wherever he could find them.

In May of 1780 he agreed on a plan to kidnap the Rebel governor of New Jersey, William Livingston. He chose Ensign James Moody as the man for this job. Moody in turn selected a small number of men from his battalion and stole into the country. Much to his chagrin, Moody arrived at Livingston's home undetected, but the governor was not at home. Moody and his party secreted themselves in NJ and awaited his return.

Again fortune did not smile on him. General Knyphausen sent a force of 5,000 men into New Jersey, barreling towards Morristown. This so alarmed the countryside that thousands of militia were mobilized, making life very dangerous for Moody and his handful of men.

Moody decided to sneak into Sussex County and make life as miserable as possible for the Rebels there. For weeks he and his men went from home to home imprisoning Rebel officers and making them sign POW Paroles. During all this time he was aided, provisioned, and re-equipped by local Loyalists.

Learning that some Loyalists and British soldiers were imprisoned in the jail at Newton (the county seat), Moody and his party stole into town in the middle of the night. He approached the jail and hammered on the door, demanding that the jail keeper answer it. The jailer answered from his window above, but refused them entrance.

Moody (impersonating a Rebel) told the jailer that they had a dangerous prisoner and that he must be lodged in the jail. The jailer again refused, saying that Moody was out and he had orders not to open the jail at night. Exasperated, Moody sternly told him, Sir, the person you address is James Moody! Open up the jail or we will tear it down about your ears!

With that, Moody's men let out an Indian war whoop that sent all the sleepy people of Newton scurrying into the woods to avoid the "Indians." They broke down the door and found the jailer cowering in the corner.

They procured the keys and released all the prisoners excepting those who were confined for civil crimes. One of the prisoners included a British soldier who was to be executed for murder. A murder he did not commit, as it later was revealed.

On their return into the British lines in July of 1780, Moody had the misfortune to time it exactly when nearly 2000 Continentals under General Wayne were in Bergen County attacking a Loyalist blockhouse on the Hudson River. Moody and virtually all of his men, including the released prisoners, were captured.

Moody was sent up the Hudson River, spending time in jails in Fishkill, Kingston and eventually West Point. While at the latter post Moody was handcuffed and shackled miserably.

He languished in this condition while the Rebel authorities decided he would be tried by a court martial as a spy, as well as for murder. They claimed the officer Moody had shot fairly in battle was murdered. By the original correspondence, it is quite apparent they had no intention of letting Moody live to fight them again.

Moody was transported in September of 1780 down to Bergen County where he was put in the middle of the camp of the Continental Army. Finding means to break free of his shackles, he overpowered the guards, grabbed a musket, and ran out in the middle of the night only to find the alarm being sounded throughout the encampment.

With presence of mind he shouldered his musket and fell in with his pursuers! Finding means to slip away, he snuck past the sentries and made his way west, away from the British lines where the Rebels would be least likely to search for him. Subsisting on nuts and berries, he eventually found his way to Paulus Hook and rejoined his corps.

For the next year Moody became involved in a new activity - intercepting the Rebel post-riders carrying the mail between Philadelphia and New England. These expeditions involved waiting in hiding for days on end, sometimes in extreme weather.

The prize, though, included numerous letters from senior officers in the Continental Army, as well as Congress itself. The British took glee in publishing many of them in the New York City newspapers, often to the embarrassment of the writers.

By the latter half of 1781, the war had reached its critical stage. Cornwallis and his army were in the process of being surrounded by the Rebel and French forces. The British command in New York City desperately needed accurate intelligence information to give them an idea of what was happening.

A shadowy figure who claimed to be an employee in the Continental Congress made an overture to Sir Henry Clinton. He offered to lead a small party through the Rebel country and lead them into the heart of the Rebel capital, Philadelphia. His plan called for stealing the most important documents from the Continental Congress itself!

This would-be traitor left them on the NJ side of the Delaware and went off to prepare the plot. Moody left his two compatriots, one of which was his brother John, and went off to find a night's lodging for himself. He found a public house and got a room for the night, telling the owner (truthfully) that he was an officer in the New Jersey Brigade. His watchcoat hid his uniform redcoat.

While upstairs later on he heard a commotion downstairs. What he heard startled him - that there was a plot to break into Congress but one of the plotters betrayed the others. Moody grabbed his pistol and whatever else he had and bolted outside, but not before a large detachment of Rebels arrived in search of him.

He threw himself into a ditch and somehow avoided detection. From the ditch he crawled into a Dutch hay rack where he had to stand erect until the Rebels moved off the following morning. He found an old canoe along the Delaware and, disguised as a bawdy boatman, made his way upriver to Sussex County.

Secreted and provisioned by secret Loyalists, he made his way back to New York, where he was mortified to find that his brother had been hanged as a spy. The other soldier, Lawrence Marr, had been similarly sentenced, but the sentence was not carried out.

James Moody had survived again, but he was a tired, broken man. When Sir Henry Clinton sailed home to England in the spring of 1782, he invited James to accompany him to London.

While in London Moody took pen to paper and wrote his famous Narrative which was widely read. Even today it is a marvelous read, detailing the Petit Guerre that was so much of the American Revolution.

Moody soon made his way to Nova Scotia where he would start his new life. His corps was disbanded on 10 October 1783 and Moody enjoyed the half-pay of a captain. Moody actually never attained that rank in the NJV, but received the higher half-pay as a reward for his bravery and services.

He would go on to become a colonel in the militia and a leading person in establishing a local church. He died in 1809, leaving a widow, Jane (his 2nd wife).

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