DAYTON, ELIAS. (1737–1807). Continental general. New Jersey. A native of Elizabethtown, apprenticed as a mechanic, he joined the Jersey Blues, became a lieutenant on 19 March 1756, and served at various stations on the New York frontier. He rose to the rank of captain. In Elizabethtown he established a general store, became a member of the committee of safety (6 December 1774), and was named one of four Essex County muster-masters on 26 October 1775. In January 1776 (on the 10th or 18th) he became colonel of the Third New Jersey Continentals, and that month he took part in the capture of the British supply ship, Blue Mountain Valley. Leading his regiment to Albany in May 1776, he rebuilt Fort Stanwix and constructed Fort Dayton at Herkimer. He saw some action against the Indians before rejoining the main army at Morristown in March 1777. He took part in the skirmishes at Bound Brook and Staten Island (presumably those of 13 April and 22 August) before engaging in the Battles of Brandywine (11 September) and Germantown (4 October). After spending the winter at Valley Forge (in William Maxwell's brigade), he led his regiment in the Monmouth campaign (June 1778) and then performed coastal outpost duty in New Jersey. He joined Sullivan's expedition against the Iroquois in Maxwell's Brigade in 1779 and was credited with the destruction of Runonvea, near Big Flats, on 31 August 1779. Dayton and his son Jonathan refused to sign the semipolitical endorsement that Sullivan secured from his officers.
Back in his home state to rejoin the main army under Washington, Dayton figured prominently in delaying and stopping General William Knyphausen's Springfield Raid (7-23 June 1780). During this and previous operations he served close to his home, Elizabethtown, and in marked contrast to such Patriots as John Cadwalader and Philemon Dickinson, he not only remained with the Continental army rather than resign to become a militia general, but also declined election to Congress. After General Maxwell's resignation in July 1780, Dayton became the acting commander of the New Jersey Brigade for the remainder of the war. During the mutiny of the New Jersey Line in January 1781, Dayton showed skill in handling disgruntled troops under his command. In the reorganization of 1 January 1781, Dayton left the Third New Jersey to become commander of the Second New Jersey. Dayton led the New Jersey troops in the Yorktown campaign. On Washington's insistence he was appointed brigadier general on 7 January 1783.
After returning to his business in Elizabethtown he became a leading citizen, state legislator, and major general of militia; he was also in the Continental Congress in 1787–1788. A personal friend of Washington, he is said to have borne him a physical resemblance.
SEE ALSO Blue Mountain Valley off Sandy Hook, New Jersey; Cadwalader, John; Dayton, Jonathan; Dickinson, Philemon; Fort Stanwix, New York; Mutiny of the New Jersey Line; Sullivan's Expedition against the Iroquois; Yorktown Campaign; Yorktown, Siege of.
Thayer, Theodore. As We Were: The Story of Old Elizabethtown. Elizabethtown, N.J.: Grassmann Publishing, 1964.
Ward, Harry M. General William Maxwell and the New Jersey Continentals. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.
revised by Harry M. Ward