"The great distress of the Army for want of Blankets..."
Supply Shortages, Suffering Soldiers,
and a Secret Mission During the Hard Winter of 1780

John U. Rees
©2000, 2002

Published in Military Collector & Historian,
vol. 52, no. 3 (Fall 2000), 98-110.

An army is a fragile organization that can be dispersed or incapacitated for want of the simplest article of supply just as easily as it can be destroyed in battle. The Continental Army's supply difficulties with food and clothing are well-known, but the inability to procure sufficient blankets to cover the soldiers was also a substantial and chronic problem. This was never more true than in the winter of 1780, when a supply system crippled by rampant inflation was further hampered by severe weather conditions. This is the story of extraordinary measures taken to keep the country's soldiers in some degree of comfort during the century's worst winter, and an attempt to understand why those efforts failed.

Before examining the army's dire straits in late 1779 and early 1780, an overview of blanket shortages during the first four years of the war is in order.

"Our condition for want of... Blankets is quite painful."
Shortages in the Continental Army, 1776-1779

As early as January 1776, George Washington wrote from Boston, "I... return you my thanks for the Blankets, and your promise of having more procured, as they are much wanted [i.e., needed]." The situation had not improved by September 1776, largely due to normal attrition and loss of equipment during the withdrawals from Long Island and New York City: "This Army is in want of almost every necessary: Tents, Camp Kettles, Blanketts and Clothes of all kinds."1

Washington's army continued to suffer shortages during the disastrous retreat across New Jersey. Even after successes at Trenton and Princeton, the commander in chief had to inform Philip Schuyler, "I wish it were in my power to furnish... Blankets for Van Schaik's regiment, we are not half covered ourselves, nor do I see where we are to get them." During the first half of 1777, the Continental Army was busy reorganizing regiments and recruiting soldiers to fill them. At the same time, large quantities of clothing and equipment were sought, an effort that, on the whole, was successful.2

Throughout the remainder of 1777, events followed a familiar course and by autumn the army was again experiencing shortages. Blankets were frequently discarded or lost while campaigning. Immediately after the Battle of Brandywine (11 September 1777), Washington notified Congress, "The baggage having been previously moved off, is all secure, saving the men's Blankets, which being at their backs, many of them doubtless are lost." Of course, many men lacked blankets prior to the battle. Sgt. Maj. John Hawkins, 2d Canadian Regiment, detailed the contents of the knapsack he lost at Brandywine and the effects he saved, making no mention of a blanket at all. Washington wrote late in November that, "there are now in this Army, by a late return four thousand Men wanting Blankets, (near 2,000 of wch. have never had one, although some of them have been twelve months in Service)."3

At other times soldiers traded blankets for food and alcohol. Thomas Wharton complained in November 1777 that officers had "not prevented the soldiers from selling their cloathing, perhaps for the purpose of purchasing whiskey, which at the enormous price it is now sold by the sutlers at camp, is alone sufficient in a few weeks to strip a soldier to the skin." Regulations for sutlers in 1782 stipulated, "For Liquors or other articles sold to non commissioned officers & soldiers, artificers and waggoners, nothing shall be taken in payment but money." Such bartering was also common at camp markets. General Orders, September 1782, state: "The Genl learns from good Authority that many of the soldiers have fallen into a scandelous & pernicisous Practice of disposing of their Clothing to Country People for Vegitables & other Articles... when Market Places are established." Officers were to "be very Carefull to prevent [the local people] receiving from the soldiers or Women of the Camp any article of Clothing in exchange for such Wares as they have to dispose of."4

Whatever the reason, by the end of September the commander in chief informed Alexander Hamilton that, "the distressed situation of the Army for want of blankets and many necessary articles of Clothing, is truly deplorable.... We have therefore no resource but from the private stock of individuals.... I am compelled to desire you immediately to proceed to Philadelphia, and there procure from the inhabitants, contributions of blankets and Clothing... in proportion to the ability of each." Writing to the President of Congress on 23 December, shortly after the army reached the winter camp at Valley Forge, the general informed him, "Since the 4th Instt. our Numbers fit for duty from the hardships and exposures they have undergone, particularly on Acct. of Blankets (numbers being obliged and do set up all Night by fires, instead of taking comfortable rest in a natural [and common] way) have decreased near 2000 Men."5

Because of inadequate supplies for replacing those lost in 1777, blankets were constantly in short supply throughout the following year. Early in 1778, Washington informed the Board of War about the army's situation: "As to Blankets, I really do not know what will be done. Our situation in this instance is peculiarly distressing. I suppose that not less than from 3 to 4000 are now wanted in Camp, Our Sick want, [and] Our unfortunate men in captivity want." By May, he was writing, "Half the Army are without Shirts. Our condition for want of the latter and Blankets is quite painful."6

FIG 1. Blankets were used for more than just bedding. This illustration shows a soldier of the 2d New York Regiment at Valley Forge in February 1778. Twenty men of the regiment had "no Breeches at all, so that they are obliged to take their Blankets to Cover their Nakedness ... the poor fellows are obliged to fitch wood and water on their backs, half a mile with bare legs in Snow or mud." With little alteration, blankets also occasionally served as soldiers' overcoats. In December 1777 the Marquis de Lafayette recommended that, "The [mens'] blanckets must have one or two buttons to surround the breast and be a kind of great coat...." Had sufficient blankets been available, such expedients would have been welcomed by Washington's troops in the winter of 1779-1780. George C. Woodbridge, "2nd New York Regiment at Valley Forge, Winter, 1777-1778,"The Brigade Dispatch, 7, no. 4 (October 1970), 10-11; Stanley J. Idzerda, ed., Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776-1790, 1 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977), 199-201. Illustration courtesy George C. Woodbridge.

When a shipment was received the quality of the goods was often found wanting. On 9 June 1778, Timothy Pickering wrote, "Capt. Armstrong arrived here yesterday with some necessaries for the North Carolina troops, among them 2768 blankets [probably from state stores]: but the whole being stowed in four waggons, I was led to inquire of the size of the blankets, & find they are so narrow that two must be sewed together to make one." This was not the last time that "narrow" blankets were issued to the army.7

That autumn, Washington ordered an accounting made of the shortfall. He informed Henry Laurens on 7 September, "I have obtained a Return of the Blankets which are now deficient. This and the fast approach of the Fall will suggest, the necessity of the most vigorous exertions being used to procure them. Not a night will pass from this time, without the Soldier's feeling the want."8

"Return of Blankets wanting in the several Brigades
at White Plains — September 6th. 1778"9




of Men

North Carolina




Woodford (Va)




Muhlenberg (Va.)




Scott (Va. & Del.)




Smallwood (Md.)




2d Maryland




Wayne (Pa.)




2d Pennsylvania




Clinton (N.Y.)




Parsons (Ct.)




Huntingdon (Ct.)




Nixon (Mass.)




Paterson (Mass.)








Late Learned (Mass.)








Poor (N.H. & Canadian)


















* The parenthesized numbers take into account new men
enlisted in August 1778, who may or may not have been present
when the numbers of needed blankets were being tallied.

Despite the arrival of additional supplies, shortages continued. On 18 October, the commander in chief described one consignment of blankets delivered in the autumn of 1778, probably part of a shipment from France: "From the account of... one of Mr. Mease's Assistants, many of the Blankets, which have just been opened, are so small, that four of them joined together, will not exceed the common and necessary size of One." French blankets may also have composed another delivery discussed by Washington in January 1779. He informed Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam that the Connecticut regiments under Brig. Gen. Samuel Parsons had received "those of the largest and best quality," while blankets in the other parcels were "of so small a kind, that it took two of one sort, and four of another to make one [of] full size.... The fact is, that the whole supply was very inadequate to the deficiency and that the troops in general have received about one half of the defective number."10

The situation did not improve in 1779, when Maj. John Burrowes, serving with Maj. Gen. John Sullivan's detached forces against the Iroquois, noted at Tioga on 25 August, "The season of the year is advancing when we should begin to think of winter quarters as the men are poorly clothed and not above one in 12 have a blanket, and nights here are already very cool." In recognition of army-wide shortages, the commander in chief issued a circular to each of the states’ governing bodies, noting that "the Articles to which I would take the liberty to solicit Your Excellency's more particular attention, are Blankets, Shirts, Shoes and Hats (more especially the two first) as our prospect of these is by no means pleasing."11

The need for additional supplies became apparent with another winter's onset and Washington sent several exhortations during the autumn of 1779. To James Wilkinson, 13 September, "The most particular and instant attention should be paid to the state of the Blankets, Shirts and Shoes.... The condition of the troops in a variety of instances for want of the first is already distressing, and if they are not very speedily relieved, it must of necessity, become far more disagreeable, and indeed miserable. ... My uneasiness for the distresses of the Troops with respect to Blankets induces me to advise... the several Agents ... to forward, without the least possible delay, all that they have or can procure. They cannot get too many as a large proportion of the Army is destitute." To John Moylan, 4 November, "The uncommon severity of the Season makes it necessary that the Blankets should be delivered before the general distribution of other Cloathing.... The Blankets are of a variety of sizes." To the President of Congress, 18 November, "Nothing can be more injurious or discouraging, than our having only four thousand nine hundred Blankets to distribute to the whole Army, and so many other Articles in but little better proportion." At the time of this assessment, the army in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania (excluding several units not returned) numbered 24,333 officers and men.12

"Without even a shadow of a blanket..."
Desperate Measures to Procure Covering for the Army, 1780


Shortly after the June 1780 British invasion of New Jersey, Washington wrote his brother of the army's travails earlier in the year, at the same time testifying to the Continental soldier’s long-suffering nature:

To tell a person at the distance of three or 400 Miles that an Army reduced almost to nothing (by the expiration of short enlistments) should [have subsisted on meager rations and] ... have had numbers of Men in it with scarcely cloaths enough to cover their nakedness, and a full fourth of it without even a shadow of a blanket severe as the Winter was, and that men under these circumstances were held together, is hardly within the bounds of credibility, but is nevertheless true.13

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The final month of 1779 had seen no improvement in the American supply situation, and the severity of the winter, the century's worst, forced Congress to act. On 31 December, a Congressional resolution referring to a "Committee appointed to confer with the Board of War," cryptically noted that "the plan communicated to them by the board appears practicable and if carried into execution promises supplies of certain articles [revealed later as blankets] immediately wanted for the troops at much less expence, and with greater dispatch than they can otherwise be procured." The "expence" of the enterprise was not to "exceed half a Million of Continental dollars and the risque to the United States is inconsiderable." In light of all this it was "Resolved That the same be referred to the Board of War & that they be Authorised to take order." The "certain articles" in question were not elaborated upon in this document, and the whole enterprise was to be handled with discretion.14

"Late in the afternoon" of 8 January, Washington received from the Board of War "a Plan of Intelligence." He was informed that in order to "carry this plan into Execution we have employed Major Howell late of the 2d. Jersey Regt commanded by Col. Shreve. Major Howell desires that, to facilitate the Measures we have communicated to him, Capt. Nathaniel Bowman of that Regiment may be detached with his entire Company of Light Infantry." (The New Jersey Brigade was then in its winter camp at Ayers', or Eyres', Forge midway between Mendham and Basking Ridge, five and a half miles southwest of Morristown, New Jersey.)15 Detailed instructions followed, with Bowman's detachment being,

ordered to proceed with an ammunition Waggon to Squan [New Jersey] by Way of Freehold where he is to draw two Weeks Provision for which purpose he is to be furnished with Orders on the Commissary there ... your Excellency [is] to give these Orders to Capt Bowman alone with Directions to keep his Route of Destination a profound Secret & to repair to Squan with all Expedition. Major Howell has selected this Officer & his Men from his Acquaintance with & Influence over them. To ensure their good Temper & Fidelity it will be necessary that they be as well equipped as to Cloathing & supplies as Circumstances will admitt.16

The final part of these instructions reiterated the mission's important and delicate nature. "Should your Excellency have Occasion to detach any Officer into that Part of the Country it will be necessary to order him not to interfere with Capt Bowman's Command; tho' we would wish no other Officer may for a Time be sent there. If contrary to our Expectations Accident should cause any Part of our Scheme to transpire & you should be informed of anything apparently wrong in the Proceedings of Major Howell or Capt Bowman we beg you to suspend your Opinion & be so obliging as to write to us on the Subject." In light of subsequent events this was to prove prescient advice.17

Two days after receiving the Board of War's instructions, headquarters aide Robert Harrison sent a request that the New Jersey Brigade's commander, Brig. Gen. William Maxwell, "furnish Capn Bowman of the 2d Jersey Regiment with an Ammunition Waggon provided with Horses & a Driver. If the Horses ... cannot be furnished by to morrow ten OClock the General wishes you to apply to General Greene for them as he would not have the Ammunition Waggon delayed after that time if it can be possibly avoided. There is to be no ammunition in the Waggon." Accompanying this was a brief explanatory note and list of supplies needed for the detached party. "Whatever Men are deficient in [Bowman's company] are to be made up out of the Regiment And the General desires that those Men may be furnished as soon as possible with their Cloathing and in preference to Others. That there may be no delay in forwarding the command the Captain has received an Order on the Cloathier General for fifty six Coats. He will receive his Orders at Head Quarters when his party is ready." And, in a postscript: "If it can be done the Men with Captain Bowman will march with three days provisions."18

These last instructions were easier given than complied with. By mid-January 1780, a large part of the army was in poor condition, and the New Jersey troops were no exception. On the 22d Washington commented in a note to Maj. Gen. William Alexander, Lord Stirling, "I am sorry to find the Jersey brigade appears to have fallen off from what it formerly was — one of the best in the army. The emulation of the officers I am persuaded will not permit them to let it remain inferior to any."19

The hard winter, with successive storms and deep snow, played no small part in deteriorating the troops' efficiency by making it difficult for food and clothing to reach the army. To make matters worse for the New Jersey soldiers, they returned from General Sullivan's expedition in late autumn with their clothes in tatters, only to find new apparel delayed through corruption or ineptitude on the part of the New Jersey State Clothier. When issued in early January, the new coats, waistcoats, and breeches were found to be poorly made, many being "too small, and many of them, with Common use, are long since worn out.” As late as 11 April 1780, Lt. Jonathan Peck, paymaster of the 2d Regiment, reported that "Many of the men have not yet received either waistcoats or breeches, and most of them have had no hats." He further noted that, "The [New Jersey] troops in general were exceedingly mortified and disgusted at these instances of neglect, penury and fraud."20

Washington referred to these and other difficulties in his 11 January reply to the Board of War. He explained that Captain Bowman was not given his orders until the 10th "owing to his being out of Camp in quest of provision.... He will march with his Company and with some additional Men I directed to be attached to it to make it compleat, this afternoon or early to morrow morning; also with an Empty Ammunition Waggon.... Our distressed circumstances for want of provision and the Jersey Troops not having received All their Cloathing or any of their Coats from their State Cloathier have also contributed to the Captains delay."21

Bowman's 11 January orders mirrored the directive given Washington on the 8th as to route, destination, and transportation. Additionally, the captain was told, "At Freehold you will draw two weeks provision for your party, for which purpose you will find an order inclosed on the commissary at that place.... It will be advisable that the men march with two or three days provisions if it can be easily obtained. You cannot move too soon."22 The singular and urgent nature of his mission was again emphasized:

You are to receive orders as to your farther distination and the objects of your command from the.... Board of War, thro' Majr Howel.... It is the desire of the Board that your route and distination be kept a profound secret, which you will observe... as the success of the enterprise they have in contemplation may depend entirely upon it. Expedition in your march will also be essential.... In the course of your march and command you will keep your party under strict discipline, and in good order.23

At the same time Washington's aide gave the captain a note to carry with him to "use as occasion may require."

To the Commissary at Freehold. Capn Bowan [sic] of the 2d Jersey Regt. detatched to Squan with a party on a special command no superior officer is to interfere with him while he remains in that quarter, without they receive particular orders for the purpose from proper authority.

Given at Head Quarters 11th Jany. 1780 G.W.24

FIG 2. The operational area of Captain Bowman's company from January to June 1780 ranged from Morristown in the north, southwards to Squan, and east to Philadelphia, opposite Cooper's Ferry on the Delaware River. It is slightly less than forty miles, straight line distance, from Morristown to Freehold, and about sixteen miles from Freehold to the mouth of the Manasquan River. (The overall distance in a straight line from Morristown to the mouth of the Manasquan is approximately fifty miles.) John Snyder, The Story of New Jersey's Civil Boundaries 1606-1968 (Trenton: Bureau of Geology & Topography, 1969), two maps showing northern (east) and southern (west) Jersey, 1775, 20, 21.

Only intermittent details are available as to what happened after this point. Since the matter was under the auspices of the Board of War and their agent, Richard Howell, there seemed no need for Washington to monitor its progress. Besides, the commander in chief had every reason to assume that the captain's mission would be relatively short. This is evident from his 11 January directions to the officer at Freehold stating that Bowman's party would need provisions only "for a fortnight." In his 3 February letter to Washington, Board member William Grayson made no mention of the Squan enterprise, though he did note that an "acquisition for cloathing is not meant to comprehend blankets." He continued in this vein: "Indeed it appears altogether impracticable to purchase any of that commodity on any terms whatever; neither do they know of any way of procuring them except by loans or donations from the respective States: [the Board of War] are however of opinion that every method ought to be try'd for obtaining them, as the distress of the army for the want of this necessary article is not to be describ'd." Perhaps Grayson knew that the commander in chief had nothing to do with directing the special mission; more likely nothing, good or bad, had yet been heard from Captain Bowman.25

The first-known intimation of trouble that Washington received came in a 3 April letter from New Jersey's governor, William Livingston, who passed along a letter "from a Delegate of this state in Congress."26 The delegate, Abraham Clark, explained the situation on 30 March:

There is now Stored at or near Squan a quantity of Blankets designed for the use of the Army; These with other Articles of Cloathing are under the direction of the board of War 'till put under the care of the Clothier general. How and from whence these blankets came to the Above place, I am not Able to inform your Excellency, but it appears they are of British Manufacture and on that Account liable to seisure and it is said that a Number of the Inhabitants of New Jersey having knowledge of the said goods are determined to Avail themselves of the Law Authorizing Seisures in case of their removal, This embarrasses the board of War. The Law eluded to impowers the Commander in Chief of the Army or your Excellency to grant pass ports for the safe conveyance of any goods ever in case they Actually come out of the Enemies Lines. As those blankets are the property of the United States, and at this Time much wanted, the granting [of] a pass port ... appears a Necessary and Justifiable measure, for the obtaining which the Secretary of the board of War will wait upon your Excellency, which I presume your Excellency will not hesitate in granting, or Advising the Commander in Chief of the Army to do it, that the board may proceed in the business with Safety.27

Livingston noted that "Orders to the Effect which [Clark] mentions, should doubtless be given without delay. But as it is an affair wholly relating to the Army, it seems most proper that the pass port should come from your Excellency. If however your Excellency thinks that any Concurrence of mine is necessary, I shall chearfully do every thing in my Power that may be thought necessary to facilitate the safe transportation of the Blankets."28

The "Law Authorizing Seisures" mentioned by Abraham Clark was first proposed in the New Jersey General Assembly in February 1778 "to prevent all illicit Correspondence with the Enemy" and "encourage the Seizure and Appropriation of any Articles unlawfully conveying to them or actually brought into the State from them." This legislation was then embodied and later enacted on 8 October 1778, under the title of "An Act to prevent the Subjects of this State from going into, or coming out of, the Enemy's Lines, without Permissions or Passports." The act, with two subsequent amendments (dated 11 December 1778 and 25 December 1779), prohibited the passage of merchandise and provisions through the lines unless accompanied by written authority from the state governor or the Commander in Chief of Continental forces.29

Virtually anyone could enforce the act, which stipulated that "any Detachment or Guard of the regular Forces... or of the Militia of this State, and ... any Person or Persons whomsoever, [may] seize and secure any Provision, Goods, Wares or Merchandize attempted to be carried or conveyed into, or brought from within the Lines or Encampments, or any Place in the Possession of the Subjects or Troops of the King of Great-Britain." Any goods lacking a passport as well as the "Boats, Carriages, Teams or Horses" transporting them were liable to be confiscated and "disposed of at publick Sale," with "two Thirds thereof [going] to the use of the State, and the other Third ... to the Captor or Captors." That latter share would have been more than enough encouragement for anyone discovering contraband goods.30

The Board president, Richard Peters, added his account of the enterprise on 30 March. He began, "The great distress of the Army for want of Blankets induced the board sometime since to attempt to import them from New York ... [which] they would have been very averse to, if they had not been absolutely certain there was no other possible means of procuring them. Previous to their taking this step, they applied to Congress for a secret Committee to confer with them on the measure, and... now ... inclose the report of the Committee." A detailed account of the transaction followed:

The board contracted with a Gentleman for 5000 blankets on terms advantageous to the Public & gave him a permit to go into N York, where he has been a most unseasonable time. He at length sent to Squan in N Jersey upwards of two thousand blankets & some other goods ... a small quantity of which has been recd by the Clothier here [Philadelphia]—but the transportation of them through the Jerseys, & the imprudence of the persons who conducted them, have created such suspicion and uneasiness among the people, as to make the board apprehensive of risqueing the residue across the Country. They therefore request your Excellencys permit for such stores as are under the care of Capt Bowman, to be used ... only in case of the last extremity—They will in the first instance make use of their own authority, which perhaps may not be disputed, when the goods are escorted by a guard.31

Peters then referred to the New Jersey law causing the difficulty and cautioned that "your permit need only mention that the stores under the care of Capt Bowman are to pass, they being for the use of the Army — How they got to Squan is a matter out of the question as to the permit & since they are on the land, it would be extremely disagreeable to loose them." He ended by saying that "the board must break up all further concern in this business, after securing for the Army what is on shore."32

Washington replied to the Board on 3 April. "I had Yesterday afternoon the Honor to receive your Letter of the 30th of March, and agreeable to your request I inclose a permit for the Goods in charge of Captain Bowman. This mode of obtaining supplies is certainly justifiable, from the unhappy situation of our affairs and the necessity of having them; but at the same time, for reasons which will readily occur to the Board, I very much wish that the business could have been conducted without an interference on my part."33 The pass read:

Head Qrs. Morris Town April 2d 1780

The Goods which Captain Bowman has in charge, have been procured by the public, and are essential Articles of supply for the Army; They are therefore to be permitted to pass.

To All Concerned GW34

Before proceeding, one of the players central to this story merits further discussion. Earlier in the war Richard Howell had served as a captain in the 2d New Jersey in Canada and New York. He was appointed major in November 1776, and in the two years following fought in the battles of Short Hills, Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. Major Howell resigned his commission as of 7 April 1779. Three years later he gave his reasons for doing so: "In april -79 I dismiss'd the most ardent hopes of promotion in the Line from a conviction that nothing but a close and continued application to books and business could secure success in my profession, upon which I must continually depend." (Howell became a licensed attorney the same month he left the army.)35

Two biographical abstracts of Richard Howell claim another reason for the resignation, that he did so "at the instance of Washington, in order to execute the delicate and dangerous mission of visiting New York as a private citizen, to purchase clothing for the troops," and that he performed the service "with great fidelity and at his own expense, never having been refunded the large sum expended." Although this is unreliable evidence, based on "the testimony of several witnesses, preserving it so late as 1851," it does mesh with the story at hand, that of contraband blankets purchased for the army by "a Gentleman" who had been given "a permit to go into N York."36

Whatever the purpose of Howell's nominal enterprise, there seems to have been an interesting denouement. Shortly after "his secret mission to New York, suspicions arising out of his venture, he was forcibly taken from his father's house before a.... judge in Burlington," and charged with treason. The justice was David Brearley, former colonel of the 4th New Jersey Regiment, and it was later recalled that "Howell showed his secret orders which secured his discharge and erasure of the minutes." Joshua Howell corroborated the fact that Richard Howell was arrested sometime in December 1780, noting that several people were "under a Warrant from Judge Brearley," and that "a Namesake of Mine, formerly a Major, has I am told likewise been ordered before his Honor, the whole under the like suspicion, but what has been the consequence, at present I am ignorant." This is certainly a fascinating account, but there remain questions as to exactly what Howell did in the early months of 1780 and why he was picked to oversee the Squan mission. We will probably never know. Richard Howell went on to a distinguished public career. In 1782, he was chosen United States judge advocate, but declined the honor. In 1788, he became clerk of the New Jersey supreme court and later served as governor of the state from 1793 to 1801.37

The facts of the Squan enterprise can be recounted as follows: On 31 December 1779, the Board of War's plan to procure "supplies of certain articles" for the Continental Army was approved by Congress and nine days later Washington was notified of the plan, which, by then, had undoubtedly been set in motion. Captain Bowman did not receive his orders until 11 January. Although ordered "to proceed immediately with the men of your company ... to Squan," the exact day of his departure is not known, probably taking place no later than the 15th. Given the bad weather and poor road conditions for wheeled vehicles (much of the army's food at the time was being carried in by sled), it is unlikely that he reached his destination much before 31 January, when a strength return of his company was made in "Monmouth County." At some point between that date and mid-March, the blankets purchased in New York were landed at Squan. In short order, their presence and nature were discovered by some local inhabitants who "determined to Avail themselves of the Law Authorizing Seisures in case of their removal." After "a small quantity" of goods had been transported to the Continental clothier in Philadelphia, intimations of trouble reached the Board of War, who then decided to bring the commander in chief back into the matter.38

Set against these events is an incident that may explain why the mission went awry. A notice by Cornelius Covenhoven, "Son of William," dated "Monmouth county, Feb. 27, 1780," was published in the 1 March New Jersey Gazette. The notice declared that "a certain Brigantine or Polacre, stranded on the shore at Manaskunk [Manasquan]" was "to be sold at publick vendue, on Tuesday the 14th day of March next, at the house of the subscriber, in Middletown, Pleasant Valley ... [with] her full set of sails, four anchors, a number of cables, standing and running rigging, together with all her apparel and furniture; with a number of other things, such as pots, kettles, grindstones, coils of rope, old iron, &c. &c."39

It is possible that the ship carrying the blankets and "other goods" ran aground at or near Squan, bringing it to the attention of local people, who then took advantage of the situation. Similar occurrences must have been common along the coast during the war. When stationed at Amboy, New Jersey, British officer John Peebles observed "a sloop from N. York run ashore ... at South Amboy," in February 1777, and noted that "the Country people plunder'd the Vessel in which there was a good many things belongg. to the Genl. & a parcel of shoes for the 71st." Regiment.40

The brigantine referred to in the newspaper notice was "stranded" in the vicinity of Squan sometime before 27 February. If this, indeed, was the correct vessel, Captain Bowman may have been on the spot, or arrived soon after, and rescued the blankets, possibly in exchange for leaving the ship in the salvors' hands. The advertisement clearly parallels the October 1778 act’s authorizing confiscation of contraband goods and the "Boats, Carriages, Teams or Horses" used for their transport, all of which were to be "disposed of at publick Sale." And, Richard Peters' late March remark that "the board [of War] must break up all further concern in this business, after securing for the Army what is on shore" supports the contention that the ship may have been seized with some goods still aboard. These are mere suppositions, but corresponding dates and locations support their being possible and, perhaps, even probable.41

Thus, the mission's timetable was derailed for at least two reasons, viz., the ship's late arrival at Squan because of the Board of War's agent staying in New York "a most unseasonable time," and local citizenry barring the contraband goods from passing through the state. Several other factors, either by themselves or in combination, added further complications — Captain Bowman's detachment being detained in camp to gather the requisite food and clothing, delays in travel because of bad weather or poor roads, and the possible grounding and seizure of the vessel. Whatever the cause, the result was that the much-needed blankets did not reach the army until well after the end of the winter's severe weather.

With receipt of Washington's pass for the goods, the matter seemed closed, but Nathaniel Bowman and his men had not seen the end of troubles related to their special mission. An April company return gives the first suggestion of further difficulties.

A Return of the Detachment Commd. by Captn. Nat. Bowman
At Squan in Monmouth County

Strength of the Detachment


1 captain

April 20th 1780, Taken Prisoner

1 lieutenant

by the Enemy 1 Ensign, 1 Serjt. & 4

1 ensign


3 sergeants


2 drum & fife

20th Apl. 4 Deserted from Coopers Ferry

56 rank & file

18th Apl. 3 Deserted from Monmouth


   20 Apl. 5 D[itt]o


              56 [rank and file]


              16 [deserted or captured]





Deserters were common in the armies of the Revolution and many, perhaps the majority, were never caught. One of the men who left Bowman's company returned later of his own volition. While on recruiting duty at Mount Holly, Maj. John Ross notified Col. Israel Shreve that "A Man of Capt. Bowmans Company delivered himself up a Week or two ago — has behaved well since — I have promised to write you to pardon him — his name is John Seely." Henry Clemhorn, another deserter, also later returned to duty. Like Seeley, Clemhorn was a veteran soldier, enlisting in 1777, having been captured at the Battle of Germantown the same year, and being exchanged in July 1778.43

A Treatise of Artillery, 3rd ed. (London: John Millan, 1780; reprint, Bloomfield, Ontario: Museum Restoration Service, 1977), pl. 20.

The affair in which the men from Bowman's company were captured is worth mention. One account was published in the 26 April 1780 Loyalist Royal Gazette. A "detachment of provincial troops" under Lt. Col. Elisha Lawrence of the New Jersey Volunteers had planned "an expedition against a rebel post [i.e., Bowman's Light Company] at Squan" but were "detained a week at the Light-house by contrary winds." They finally,

embarked at Sandy Hook upon the night of the 21st [April] ... [and] having a favourable passage, Col. Laurence landed at midnight and marched immediately for the cantonement of the enemy, which he soon reached, but was much mortified in finding the post had been withdrawn the morning of the 20th, a Lieutenant, serjeant and four or five private men excepted, who were made prisoners; nothing further to be done, the detachment reimbarked and returned to Sandy Hook the 22d inst[ant].44

2d Lt. Benajah Osmun, Captain William Helms' Company of the 2d Regiment, had been sent along with a sergeant and three privates on detached service to Squan sometime in March. Osmun and two of his private soldiers, along with a sergeant and two privates of Bowman's Company, were the men captured by Colonel Lawrence. The lieutenant wrote his regimental commander from "Long Island New utrick" in mid-May to explain the circumstances of their capture:

D[ea]r. Col. having a fabril [favorable] oportunity Enforming you what part of the world I Recide in at preasant and [in] what maner I was taken / I left Capt. Bowman at Philadelphia a tuseday afternoon 18 of april. Came to Squan a wensday Eavning where the buisiness I had to settle Could not Bedun [be done] / amediatly gave orders to Mr. [Samuel] Con [i.e., Conn, Bowman's 1st lieutenant] that he was to march the next morning with the men which he did / friday night [21 April] about half after a sevan a Clock Serjant Curtis with four men Come to my Quarters after two men that had left the Party and their Being tired I ordered them to Rest their selves for a Little time and Call on me and then would go and serch the houses and no doubt but should [have] found them but was disapointed by a Party under the Comand of Col Lawrence which Landed about one a Clock and took me and the men which was Brought to New York and I was sent to Long Island on my Paroll where I am still Remain / I have seen Mr [Abraham] Stout [lieutenant, 2nd New Jersey, captured at Cooper's Ferry, 5 April 1778] and [James] Paul [lieutenant, captured at Newark Bay, 3 April 1779] ones or twice But our Quarters is so far apart that we doont see one another offen.45

Only by sheer chance did Lieutenant Conn's detachment avoid the fate of Lieutenant Osmun and his men. Osmun's narrative is also interesting in light of the pass issued for the goods by Washington on 2 April. We now know that this part of Bowman's light company (probably the larger portion) finally left Squan on 20 April, perhaps in company with all or part of the blankets landed more than a month earlier. By 4 May the company was with the rest of the regiment in its camp near Connecticut Farms, New Jersey.46

A month later Nathaniel Bowman received a summons from the Board of War: "The board are desirous of seeing Capt Bowman of the Jersey Troops on the subject of his command at Squan, during the last Winter & Spring, & would be much obliged to your Excellency to order him to repair to Philadelphia without delay."47

On 7 June, the day this note was written, the captain and his company were opposing the British in New Jersey. In writing to his wife of the events of the day, Colonel Shreve several times mentioned Bowman's participation. After the British landed at Elizabethtown on the evening of the 6th, the New Jersey Brigade retired to Connecticut Farms, "leaveing Capt. Bowman with his [light infantry] Company at a fork of the Road, half a mile below." At dawn the action commenced, Shreve noting that "on the Enemys Appearance which was a little before sunrise Capt. Bowman fired upon their advance party, and Retired over a small bridge." Fierce combat continued throughout the day with Bowman and his company in the thick of it.48

Having received the Board's letter on the 13th, Washington immediately ordered Nathaniel Bowman to Philadelphia in company with a "Captn. Joel who has just come from New York, and who pretends to have left the British Army in disgust." (Washington informed Bowman that Joel, a suspicious character, "is to be treated with politeness, but not to be permitted to escape, if he would wish to do it, and proper precautions are to be had to prevent it." As far as is known Captain Joel had nothing to do with the blankets at Squan.) The commander in chief requested that "The Board ... be pleased to permit Captn Bowman to return to his Regiment as soon as they can, as he is said to be a very brave and active Officer."49

The last we hear of the good captain's trip is a note from Board member Timothy Pickering informing Washington, "We had the honour of receiving your letter of the 14th inst. by Captain Bowman, who arrived here yesterday, with Capt. Joel, whom we committed to the care of Colo. Nichola to keep in safe custody." No record has been found of Bowman's interrogation or testimony.50

In retrospect, given the task of supplying poorly clothed and freezing soldiers with blankets before the winter's end, the Board of War's mission to Squan seemed fated to failure almost from the outset. Congress' late approval of the scheme, the unavoidable delay incurred in procuring sufficient clothing and food for Bowman's company, and poor traveling conditions all combined to make success questionable. Local knowledge of the shipment and New Jersey's contraband laws, with the attendant legal and political complications, only made what was probable inevitable. Even if all had gone as planned, the blankets landed at Squan would likely not have reached Washington's troops until the end of February at the earliest. In reality, the contraband goods seem not to have left Squan until mid-April if Colonel Lawrence's Loyalist detachment had been able to attack as planned, perhaps most of Nathaniel Bowman's company and the blankets would have been captured and taken back to New York. Purchasing large quantities of supplies for the army from enemy-held territory seems not to have been attempted prior to 1780, and the experience of the Squan enterprise must have discouraged any further such plans. In fact, another mission was proposed by the Board of War in early 1780. On 30 March Richard Peters informed Washington that, "They [the Board of War] have the consent of Congress in a similar way, to bring up £30000 [pounds] worth of goods to West Point." This time the shipment was to include, besides blankets, "Linens, Tent Cloth, [and] Hatts." Peters noted that the Hudson River route "seems to be liable to less examination, or suspicion, as the transportation is by water, & no risque to be run by the public, from the Enemy." He also alluded to problems recently encountered at Squan, stating that while "there are no other means of procuring [the merchandise] yet the present business has been so conducted as not to give the strongest hopes of the success of the other." Continuing in a hopeful vein, he opined, "but this other under different circumstances & with other people & the great Distress of the Army will perhaps prevail over all apprehensions & induce the board to attempt it." The proposal ended with a request for Washington's "advice as [the Board of War] do not wish to introduce a custom, which with narrow minds, may be liable to many objections, unless there is great probability of its success. They hope to be favored with Your Excellencys answer as soon as possible, as the business will admit of very little delay." A response from the commander in chief to this suggestion has not been found, and likely one was never issued given the then emerging events of the Squan fiasco. Similarly, no evidence of the implementation of this second plan has emerged, and it is highly unlikely it was ever adopted.51

After so much planning and effort, by year's end the army again needed blankets. Washington notified "Messrs. Otis and Henley" in October 1780, "I would fain hope that part if not the whole of the Baize, purchased with the intent of having it milled and cut into Blankets, may be ... ready for use. The Season calls for them, and I very much fear, that the troops in the field and in Hospitals will be exceedingly distressed for want of them, before they can be got to hand.... If three or four thousand could be hurried on speedily, they would perhaps supply the wants of the most needy, and make the delay of the remainder more tolerable." On 29 December, in response to a request from Colonel Shreve, then commanding the New Jersey Brigade, the general was compelled to tell him, "Had I the power, I have not the means of supplying the Officers with Blankets, as we shall with difficulty make up a sufficiency for the Soldiers."52

The Continental Army's materiel difficulties were to some degree eased with the end of large-scale hostilities following the capture of Lord Cornwallis's army at Yorktown in 1781. Although problems with clothing and blanket supplies continued to the end of the war, never again did Washington's army experience such hardships as they did during the winter of 1780.


Many thanks to Michael Adelberg, Dr. David Fowler, Thaddeus Weaver, and Fellow George Woodbridge, whose comments, contributions, and advice contributed greatly to this work.


1. George Washington to Nicholas Cooke, Governor of Rhode Island, 6 January 1776, The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick (Washington, DC: GPO, 1931), 4: 214 (hereafter cited as Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington); Washington to the President of Congress, 25 September 1776, ibid. (1932), 6: 117-18.

2. Washington to Philip Schuyler, 27 January 1777, ibid (1932), 7: 69.

3. Washington to the President of Congress, 11 September 1777, ibid. (1933), 9: 208; Stephen R. Gilbert, "The Diary of Sergeant-Major Hawkins,” The Brigade Dispatch, 21, no. 2 (Summer 1990): 6-7; Washington to Israel Putnam, 11 November 1777, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington (1933), 10: 41-42.

4. Thomas Wharton (President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania) to Henry Laurens, 3 November 1777, Item 69, Pennsylvania State Papers, 1775-91, 429, The Papers of the Continental Congress 1774-1789, (National Archives Microfilm Publication M247 roll 83), Record Group (RG) 360, National Archives (NA), Washington, DC (hereafter cited as Papers of Congress); Timothy Pickering, "Regulations for the Government of Sutlers," 8 September 1782, vol. 84, pp. 96-97, Numbered Record Books Concerning Military Operations and Service, Pay and Settlement of Accounts, and Supplies in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, (National Archives Microfilm Publication M853, roll 27), RG 93, NA; General orders, 5 September 1782, Orderly Book, Aug. 2, 1782-Nov. 14, 1782, pp. 64, 97 (roll 10, target 7), RG 93, NA.

5. Washington's instructions to Alexander Hamilton, 22 September 1777, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington (1933), 9: 248-49; Washington to the President of Congress, 23 December 1777, ibid., 10: 192-95.

6. Washington to the Board of War, 2-3 January 1778, ibid., 251; Washington to the President of Congress, 18 May 1778, ibid. (1934), 11:416-17.

7. Timothy Pickering to Washington, 9 June 1778, George Washington Papers, Presidential Papers Microfilm, series 4, roll 49, Washington, DC, 1961 (hereafter cited as Washington Papers).

8. Washington to Henry Laurens, 7 September 1778, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington (1934) 12: 410.

9. "Return of Blankets wanting in the several Brigades at White Plains - September 6th. 1778," Item 152, Letters from Gen. George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Army, 1775-84, vol. V, p. 345, (roll 168), Papers of Congress. For brigade composition see Charles H. Lesser, ed., The Sinews of Independence: Monthly Strength Reports of the Continental Army (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 80-82 (hereafter cited as Lesser, Sinews of Independence).

10. "Return of Cloathing forwarded ... from the Public Cloathing Store at Springfield, from the 12th. to the 27th: of Octr 1778. French Cloathing," Washington Papers, series 4, roll 53. This return lists 765 blankets forwarded to the army with French clothing sent from Springfield, Massachusetts. Washington to the Board of War, 18 October 1778, and, Washington to Israel Putnam, 8 January 1779, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington (1936), 13: 105, 493.

11. "Journal of Major John Burrowes, Spencer's Additional Regiment, at Tioga," Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan Against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779 (Glendale, NY: Benchmark Publishing, 1970), 42; Washington, circular to the different states, 26 August 1779, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington (1937), 16: 173-74.

12. Washington to James Wilkinson, 13 September 1779, ibid., 280-81; Washington to John Moylan, 4 November 1779, ibid. (1937), 17: 7; Washington to the President of Congress, 18 November 1779, ibid., 12-131; Lesser, Sinews of Independence, 140-42.

13. Washington to John Augustine Washington, 6 July 1780, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington (1937), 19: 135-36.

14. Resolve of the Continental Congress, 31 December 1779, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 63.

15. Richard Peters (Board of War) to George Washington, 3 January 1780, ibid., series 4, roll 63; Fred Bartenstein, Jr., "N.J. Brigade Encampment in the Winter of 1779-1780," New Jersey History, 86, no. 3 (Fall 1968): 134-57 (map, 151).

16.. Richard Peters to George Washington, 3 January 1780, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 63.

17. Ibid.

18. Robert H. Harrison to William Maxwell, 10 January 1780 (two letters), ibid. "Muster Roll of Capt. Nathl. Bowman's Compy 2d. Jersey Regt," 31 January 1780, Israel Shreve Papers, transcription no. 141, Alexander Library, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ (hereafter cited as Israel Shreve Papers, Rutgers Univ.). This return showed one captain, one first lieutenant, one sergeant, three corporals, thirty-six privates present fit for duty; one sergeant sick absent, one musician and five privates "in Camp," and one musician and two privates on detached duty at Princeton. Also listed are one second lieutenant, one sergeant, and six privates taken prisoner in April 1779 at Newark Bay. "Muster Roll of Capt. Nathl. Bowman's Compy 2d. Jersey Regt," 31 January 1780, Israel Shreve Papers, transcription no. 141, Alexander Library, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ (hereafter cited as Israel Shreve Papers, Rutgers Univ.). This return showed one captain, one first lieutenant, one sergeant, three corporals, thirty-six privates present fit for duty; one sergeant sick absent, one musician and five privates "in Camp," and one musician and two privates on detached duty at Princeton. Also listed are one second lieutenant, one sergeant, and six privates taken prisoner in April 1779 at Newark Bay.

19. George Washington to William Alexander, Lord Stirling, 22 January 1780, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 63.

20. The supply situation was made worse by the previous year's campaign which had exacted a severe toll on the soldiers, clothing, and equipment of the three New Jersey regiments. The New Jersey Brigade had participated in Maj. Gen. John Sullivan's expedition against the Iroquois in Pennsylvania and New York. The service was arduous, involving hard marches through rough and heavily wooded country, far from any place of supply. Nathan Davis, 1st New Hampshire Regiment, described the condition of the soldiers' apparel when the expedition reached Fort Sullivan (Tioga) at the end of the campaign. "Marching nearly the whole time in the woods, among thick underbrush, it may well be supposed that we had but little left of our clothing, on our return to the garrison." The New Jersey troops were in the same situation. 2d Lt. Jonathan Peck, paymaster of the 2d Regiment, noted that in October 1779 "I was dispatched from Tioga ... [to] receive the Clothing of the Regt., and forward it to Easton, that it might be ready for the troops (who were then almost naked)."

The clothing made up for the soldiers was late in reaching New Jersey's soldiers. In his April 1780 testimony against Enos Kelsey, clothier for New Jersey, Lieutenant Peck stated that "Agreeable to Mr. Kelsey's request, the taylors of the regiment were sent to Princeton, to assist in making the materials which were then on hand and afterwards to be procured. At first, they began to work, without either lappels or buttons, but were shortly prevented altogether, for want of thread. On account of the deficiency ... they were, at different times idle for many days together."

Sometime in December "Mr. Kelsey [received] about 150, or 200 uniform coats, which he had caused to be made without lining, [and] the lappells without button holes, and sewed down to the bodies of the coats; and at the same time a great variety of waistcoats, and breeches, of all colors and shades, and, in general, of the worst quality; these too were without lining. All these articles, [Peck] positively refused to receive, as altogether unfit for a soldier's use... Mr. Kelsey offered it as his opinion, 'that the coats were good enough for soldiers without lining'."

The inferior quality of the clothing was not immediately rectified. When Kelsey finally "obtained an order from the Clothier Genl. ... to send these articles to the Brigade - they were lined and sent. About the 8th Jany. they were delivered to the being apprised of "the deficiencies of cloathing in the Army ... [and] the distress consequential from such a situation." Despite "the reduced state of the finances," early in the month the Board of War received "a warrant... for two million six hundred & forty eight thousand dollars ... to supply the deficiencies of cloathing in the Continental army." Nathan Davis, "History of the Expedition Against the Five Nations, Commanded by General Sullivan, in 1779," Historical Magazine, 2d series, 3 (April 1868): 204. This is a memoir of a soldier in the 1st New Hampshire Regiment. Testimony of Jonathan Peck, paymaster 2d Jersey Regiment, 11 April 1780, Revolutionary War Manuscripts (Numbered), Military Records, roll 5807941917, document no. 5863, New Jersey State Archives, Trenton. William Grayson to Washington, 3 February 1780, Item 148, Letters from the Board of War and Ordnance, 1780-81, p. 55, (roll 161), Papers of Congress.

21. Washington to the Board of War, 11 January 1780, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, (1937), 18: 378-79.

22. Washington to Nathaniel Bowman, 11 January 1780, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 63.

23. Ibid.

24. Robert Harrison to Nathaniel Bowman (instructions in two parts), 11 January 1780, ibid.

25. Ibid.; William Grayson to Washington, 3 February 1780, Item 148, Letters from the Board of War and Ordnance, 1780-81, p. 55, (roll 161), Papers of Congress.

26. William Livingston to Washington, 3 April 1780, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 65.

27. Abraham Clark to William Livingston, 30 March 1780, ibid.

28. William Livingston to Washington, 3 April 1780, ibid.

29. "Votes and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the State of New-Jersey At a Session begun at Trenton on the 28th Day of October, 1777" (Trenton, N.J., 1779), 23 February 1778, 62; "An Act to prevent the Subjects of this State from going into, or coming out of, the Enemy's Lines, without Permissions or Passports," 8 October 1778, "Acts of the General Assembly of the State of New-Jersey ... begun at Trenton on the 28th Day of October 1777,... 4th and last Sitting,... second Session" (Trenton, N.J., 1778), 104-106; "An Act to explain and amend an Act, intitled, An Act to prevent the Subjects of this State from going into, or coming out of, the Enemy's Lines, without Permissions or Passports," 11 December 1778, "Acts of the General Assembly of the State of New-Jersey ... begun at Trenton on the 27th Day of October 1778,... first Sitting,... third Session" (Trenton, NJ, 1779), 41-42; "A Supplement to the Act, intitled, An Act to explain and amend an Act, intitled, An Act to prevent the Subjects of this State from going into, or coming out of, the Enemy's Lines, without Permissions or Passports." 25 December 1779, "Acts of the General Assembly of the State of New-Jersey ... begun at Trenton on the 26th Day of October, 1779,... first Sitting,... Fourth Assembly.", (Trenton, N.J., 1780), 48-50; William Sumner Jenkins, ed., Records of the States of the United States of America: A Microfilm Compilation, (Washington, 1949), New Jersey, A. 1b, reel 3, and B.2., reel 4 (hereafter cited as Records of the States).

30. "An Act to prevent the Subjects of this State from going into, or coming out of, the Enemy's Lines, without Permissions or Passports," 8 October 1778, 105-106; "A Supplement to the Act, intitled, An Act to explain and amend an Act, intitled, An Act to prevent the Subjects of this State from going into, or coming out of, the Enemy's Lines, without Permissions or Passports," 25 December 1779, 49, New Jersey, B.2, reel 4, Records of the States.

31. Richard Peters to Washington, 30 March 1780, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 65.

32. Ibid.

33. Washington to the Board of War, 3 April 1780, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington (1937), 18:212-13.

34. "Copy of Certificate" (Nathaniel Bowman), Washington to the Board of War, 3 April 1780, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 63.

35. Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution -April 1775 to December 1783 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1982), 185; John U. Rees, "A Listing of the Field Officers, Commissioned Officers and Staff of the 2nd New Jersey Regiment, December 1777 to May 1779," appendix to "'I Expect to be stationed in Jersey sometime..." An Account of the Services of the Second New Jersey Regiment, December 1777 to June 1779," unpublished manuscript, The David Library of the American Revolution, Washington Crossing, PA (hereafter cited as "I Expect to be stationed in Jersey sometime"); Washington to the Board of War, 15 April 1779, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington (1936), 14: 392; Richard Howell to Benjamin Lincoln, 26 September 1782, Letters Addressed to Congress, 1775-89, XII, p. 245, (roll 96), Papers of Congress.

36. Daniel Agnew, "A Biographical Sketch of Governor Richard Howell, of New Jersey," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 22 (1898): 225-226 (hereafter cited as Agnew, "Governor Richard Howell"); Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, vol. V (New York, N.Y., 1961), 304 (hereafter cited as Dictionary of American Biography); Richard Peters to Washington, 30 March 1780, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 65.

37. Agnew, "Governor Richard Howell," 226; Dictionary of American Biography, 304; Joshua Howell stated that the persons named in his letter as being "under a Warrant from Judge Brearley... have been in the custody of the Sheriff of this County [Gloucester], their appearance directed to be before the Judge." Joshua Ladd Howell to John Noble Cumming, 15 December 1780, Savitz Library Special Collections, Stewart Room, Rowan State College, Glassboro, NJ.

38. Resolve of the Continental Congress, 31 December 1779, and Washington to Nathaniel Bowman, 11 January 1780, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 63; Abraham Clark to William Livingston, 30 March 1780, and Richard Peters to Washington, 30 March 1780, ibid., series 4, roll 65. Inclement weather and bad roads must have been a large factor in Captain Bowman's mission to Squan, with deep snow, ice, and mud hampering travel. That winter was the worst of the entire century, with snowfall beginning in late November 1779. By 6 December it was "knee deep and the weather very cold." In January, there was one particularly severe storm, or series of storms, which lasted from the 3d to the 10th of the month. The temperature in January never rose above freezing, averaging about 22 degrees. On 7 February, Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair reported several enemy incursions near Staten Island; he believed they turned back after "Finding the snow very deep, and the Roads not broken." In January and February, there was a period of "uninterrupted and unvarying cold" which kept Staten Island Sound solidly frozen. St. Clair was informed that on 20 February enemy cavalry had "passed on the ice to and fro from New York" to Paulus Hook, New Jersey. Two days later the temperatures rose and rains fell, and by 24 February the ice in the Hudson River, Staten Island Sound, and New York Harbor had broken up. Samuel Stelle Smith, Winter at Morristown, 1779-1780: The Darkest Hour (Monmouth Beach, NJ: Philip Freneau Press, 1979), 10-11, 27.

Use of sleds for transportation: 19 January 1780, "Last Saturday the Magistrates of [Burlington] County [New Jersey] met And Chearfully undertook to Raise the provisions Called for ... upwards of one hundred Carcases of Good mutton, and several of Veal, fresh pork &c will set out in sleds tomorrow ... one brigade of sleds that went with Mutton was several times stoped, and the Drivers much Insulted, and several Carcases of Mutton forceably taken away ... this Conduct very much Discorages the Inhabitants from turning out with their sleds, who as yet offers to Go Voluntarily." Israel Shreve to Washington, 19 January 1780, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 63.

Uncertainty concerning geography and local place names allows some leeway in an interpretation of what may have happened. Bowman's detachment was to "proceed ... to Squan" and the blankets were stored "at or near Squan." Historian Michael Adelberg notes that "To locals ... the terms Manasquan, Squan, and Squankom probably did denote distinct geographic locations," but "the maps that have survived were compiled by people with little knowledge of the many coves, inlets, and islands that line the Jersey shore." Outsiders used these names interchangeably, and Mr. Adelberg estimates that the three names could denote "pretty much anything within ten miles of the mouth of the Manasquan River." Too, Squan may possibly denote a sheltered landing area just inside the mouth of the Manasquan. Such uncertainty only adds to the confusion surrounding Bowman's mission and where the associated events actually took place. Michael Adelberg to the author, 14 August 1998.

39. New Jersey Gazette (Trenton), 1 March 1780, William Nelson, ed., "Extracts from American Newspapers Relating to New Jersey," IV, 1 November 1779-30 September 1780, Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey, Second Series, (Trenton: State Gazette Publishing, 1914), 206 (hereafter cited as Nelson, Documents Relating to New Jersey).

40. John Peebles' American War: The Diary of a Scottish Grenadier, 1776-1782, ed. Ira D. Gruber (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1998), 98.

41. "An Act to prevent the Subjects of this State from going into, or coming out of, the Enemy's Lines, without Permissions or Passports," 8 October 1778, 105-106, New Jersey, B.2, reel 4, 106, Records of the States; Richard Peters to Washington, 30 March 1780, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 65.

42. "A Return of the Detachment Commd. by Captn. Nat. Bowman At Squan in Monmouth County," April 1780, Shreve Papers, Rutgers Univ.

43. John Ross to Israel Shreve, 21 May 1780, Israel Shreve Papers, Buxton Collection, Prescott Memorial Library, Louisiana Tech University, Ruston (hereafter cited as Shreve Papers, Buxton Coll.). While not strictly pertinent to the story of Bowman's mission, some mention should be made of the common soldiers serving under him. Light companies were usually comprised of veterans. One was Oliver Cromwell, a black soldier, who served from 1777 till the end of the war, most of the time in Bowman's Company. The deserter John Seeley was also typical. Around twenty-two years old when he enlisted in the 2d Regiment as a nine-months levy in May 1778, he signed on for the war in November and was placed in the lieutenant colonel's company in 1779. Seeley was one of those men transferred in January 1780 to fill out Bowman's company for the mission to Squan. In his pension deposition, on which he made his mark in lieu of a signature, he claimed to have served a "great part of the time in the [light] Infantry under Captain Bowman...." One of the "lower sort," Seeley noted in his deposition, "I have no real or personal Estate of any description except my wearing apparel. I am by occupation a labourer, but incapable of Obtaining a livelyhood from weakness.... I have no family - I was a Pauper supported in the Alms house of Gloucester County NJ. I have a wife Hannah aged about 39 years who left me after I was taken to the Alms House." Like many soldiers he gained nothing but pride of service from his years in the Revolutionary army. Rees, "Blacks, Mulattoes and Indians Known to Have Served in the 2nd New Jersey Regiment of 1778-79," 2, and "A Listing of the Non Commissioned Officers and Privates of the 2nd New Jersey Regiment of 1778", 2, 9, appendices to "I Expect to be stationed in Jersey sometime"; John Seeley, pension deposition, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty - Land - Warrant Application Files, S33638 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M804, roll 1874), Records of the Veterans Administration, RG 15, NA. The men who deserted at Squan and Cooper's Ferry in April 1780 were:

18 April Henry Clemhorn enlisted 3/20/77
    captured 10/4/77, exchanged July 1778
  Daniel Griffee enlisted 2/15/76
20 April John Seeley  
  Joseph Swan  
  Joseph Cornick enlisted 12/15/76
  James Irwin 9 months levy 1778, for the war 12/9/78
  Abraham Cox enlisted 12/15/76
    captured 4/5/78; exchanged July 1778
  Andrew Downing enlisted 12/15/76
  Benjamin Guinop  

Muster rolls, Nathaniel Bowman's Company, March/April 1780, William Helms' Company, May/June/July 1780, Lt. Col. DeHart's Company, May, June, July 1780, Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783, New Jersey, jackets 30-1, 31-1, 32-1, (National Archives Microfilm Publication M246, roll 59), War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group 93, National Archives, Washington DC (hereafter cited as Revolutionary War Rolls).

44. The Royal Gazette (New York), 26 April 1780, Nelson, Documents Relating to New Jersey, 324; Elisha Lawrence, lieutenant colonel New Jersey Volunteers, Paul J. Bunnell, The New Loyalist Index, 3 (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1998), 89.

45. Benajah Osmun to Israel Shreve, 21 May 1780, Shreve Papers, Buxton Coll.; "A Return of the Officers in the second Jersey Regt:," April 1780, Israel Shreve Papers, Rutgers Univ.; Rees, "Listing of the Names of Casualties in the 2nd New Jersey Regiment from 1777 to the Spring of 1779," and "A Listing of the Field Officers, Commissioned Officers and Staff of the 2nd New Jersey Regiment, December 1777 to May 1779," appendices to "I Expect to be stationed in Jersey sometime." The March return for Helms' Company (dated 9 April) shows 2d Lt. Benajah Osmun; Sergeant John Polen; and Privates Jacob Shaver, James Rankins "On Command at Suan." Prisoners taken at Squan, 20 April 1780: 2d Lt. Benajah Osmun, Helms' Co.; Sgt. John Curtis, Bowman's Co.; Pvt. Jacob Shaver, Helms' Co.; privates Henry Haldron and William Shoemaker, Bowman's Co.; and Lt. Col. Isaac Doty. DeHart's Co. Muster rolls, Nathaniel Bowman's Company, March/April 1780, and William Helms' Company, March 1780 and May/June/July 1780, Revolutionary War Rolls, New Jersey, jackets 30-1, 31-1 (roll 59). Oddly enough the 2d New Jersey had been involved in small actions, and suffered casualties, in the same month the two previous years; in April 1778 at Cooper's Ferry, New Jersey, twenty-six men were captured and two killed, and in April 1779 at "Bergan shore," Newark Bay, twelve men were ambushed and captured.

46. Muster roll, Nathaniel Bowman's Company, March/April 1780, Revolutionary War Rolls, New Jersey, jacket 30-1 (roll 59); William Maxwell to Washington, Connecticut Farms [NJ], 18 May 1780, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 66.

47. Benjamin Stoddert (Board of War) to Washington, 7 June 1780, ibid., series 4, roll 67.

48. Israel Shreve to Mary Shreve, 14 June 1780, Shreve Papers, Buxton Coll. Colonel Shreve noted the reaction to the British landing on 6 June and described the fighting on the 7th: "On tuesday night the [6th] of June between 11 & 12 oClock the Enemy Landed at Elizabethtown point, Our Piquets fired upon them Which Alarmed our Camp. Immediately a Light Horseman Arived from Colo. Dayton ... that they were Landed in force, We Immediately Caled in all Guards about Camp, and Marched towards Elizabethtown and fell in about 2 miles above the town upon the Connecticut farm Road but thought it prudent to Retire a Little up the same being joined by the third Regt. from town, halted at the [Connecticut] farms Meeting house, Leaveing Capt. Bowman with his [light infantry] Company at a fork of the Road, half a mile below. On the Enemys Appearance which was a little before sunrise [on the 7th] Capt. Bowman fired upon their advance party, and Retired over a small bridge where was but a Narrow pass he being there joined by five Piquet Guards - Disputed the pass for two hours and an half, - some part of the time very near sometimes one party Giveing way, sometimes the other, - at Length a Large Reinforcement from the Enemy Come up and our people Expending thirty Rounds a man, was Obliged to Give way, Covered by the third Jersey Regt. and part of the other three."

Shortly after that "the Combat was Renewed very Briskly, but [we were] Obliged to Give way slowly untill we Arived at Springfield Bridge, Where the Militia had Gathered with a peace of Cannon, this pass was so well Defended that the Enemy Gave way." After some further fighting in the afternoon during which an attack was made on the enemy across the creek, the Jersey regiments were forced in the face of superior numbers to retire back over the bridge where they held their ground for the rest of the day. See also, John U. Rees, "'The enemy hove in a tollerable fire...': Casualties in the New Jersey Brigade in the Actions of Connecticut Farms and Springfield, June 1780," and "The Combat was Renewed very Briskly...': Maxwell's Brigade in the 1780 British Incursion into New Jersey," unpublished manuscripts, author's collection.

49. Washington to the Board of War, 14 June 1780, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington (1937), 9:11-12; Robert H.Harrison to Nathaniel Bowman, 16 June 1780, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 67.

50. Timothy Pickering (Board of War) to Washington, 19 June 1780, ibid.

51. Richard Peters to Washington, 30 March 1780, ibid., series 4, roll 65. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, the George Washington Papers, and The Papers of the Continental Congress have all been searched for further mention of Peters' plan for moving contraband goods for the army up the Hudson River.

52. Washington to Otis and Henley, 4 October 1780, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington (1937), 20:119; Washington to Israel Shreve, 29 December 1780, ibid. (1937), 21:35.