Hand, Edward

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Hand, Edward

HAND, EDWARD. (1744–1802). Continental general. Ireland and Pennsylvania. Born 31 December 1744 in Clyduff, Ireland, Hand completed his medical studies at Trinity College in 1766. As surgeon's mate of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment he came to Philadelphia in 1767. Made an ensign in 1772, he went to Fort Pitt with the regiment, returned to Philadelphia with the unit in 1774, and then resigned to practice medicine. With the outbreak of Revolution, Hand joined the Americans, serving in the siege of Boston as a lieutenant colonel (25 June 1775) in William Thompson's Pennsylvania Rifle Battalion. Later active in organizing and drilling the Lancaster County Associators, on 1 January 1776 he was assigned to the First Continental Infantry. On 7 March he was made a colonel, and on 1 January 1777 he assumed command of the First Pennsylvania Regiment. (This was the new designation for Thompson's Battalion, which had been renamed twice: from Thompson's Battalion to the First Continental Regiment to the First Pennsylvania Regiment.)

On Long Island he was General George Washington's principal source of information as the British built up strength on Staten Island. His regiment performed well in the events immediately preceding the battle of Long Island and was engaged at White Plains. He and his men executed a skillful and well-disciplined delaying action without which Washington's victory at Princeton, 3 January 1777, would not have been possible. Impressed by Hand's consistently fine conduct, Washington prevailed on Congress to appoint him brigadier general on 1 April 1777. General Hand then went to Fort Pitt with orders to mobilize the militia of western Pennsylvania, push into the Indian country, and destroy the British base at Detroit. In February 1778 Hand moved with 500 militia toward Sandusky, but snow, rain, and swollen streams stopped him short of his objective. On his way back to Fort Pitt he killed and captured some Indian women at Salt Lick, leading to his operation being dubbed the "Squaw Campaign."

Criticized for both this wasted campaign and for his failure to adequately support General George Rogers Clark's western operation, Hand resigned in disgust, and on 8 November 1778 took over from John Stark as commander at Albany. He arrived just in time for the Cherry Valley Massacre and subsequently played a major role in Sullivan's expedition against the Iroquois (May-November 1779). During General Wilhelm Knyphausen's raid on Springfield, New Jersey, in June 1780, General Hand led a task force of 500 men, and in August he was given command of a new brigade of light infantry. In that capacity he sat on the court-martial that condemned Major John André to death for spying. When Alexander Scammell resigned as Washington's adjutant general on 16 November 1780), Washington selected Hand to succeed him.

Brevetted as a major general on 30 September 1783, he served until 3 November 1783 and then returned to his medical practice. Active also in political and civic affairs, he was a congressman in 1784–1785, and in 1790 he signed the Pennsylvania state constitution. He was inspector of revenue from 1791–1802. A staunch Federalist, he started having trouble with his accounts early in the Republican administration, and in 1802 a petition was brought into court to sell his lands in order to cover the losses. He died of a stroke in the midst of this trouble, on 3 September 1802.

SEE ALSO Cherry Valley Massacre, New York; Scammell, Alexander; Springfield, New Jersey, Raid of Knyphausen; Squaw Campaign; Sullivan's Expedition against the Iroquois.


Forry, Richard R. "Edward Hand: His Role in the American Revolution." Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 1976.

                                        revised by Michael Bellesiles