Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey

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Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey

LITTLE EGG HARBOR, NEW JERSEY. 5-7 October 1778. In the autumn of 1778 Sir Henry Clinton returned to New Jersey by way of conducting a series of major foraging operations. Concurrently, he worked with the Royal Navy to plan a raid to knock out a troublesome privateers' nest a few miles north of modern Atlantic City. On 30 September, Captain Henry Collins put to sea with a task force consisting of his year-old Zebra (fourteen guns), four other sloops of war, a brig, and several galleys. The army contingent consisted of three hundred men from the Seventieth Foot and the New Jersey Provincials (Skinner's Brigade), led by Captain Patrick Ferguson. Other than a handful of local militiamen, the only American force in the area was Pulaski's Legion. This combined arms team had been organized in Baltimore during the late spring and summer and consisted of one troop of lancers, two troops of dragoons, one company of riflemen, and two companies of light infantry. Most of the officers were foreign volunteers, and a substantial number of the men were German deserters.

The British arrived offshore on 5 October, and over the course of the next two days they destroyed ten large vessels and assorted storehouses, saltworks, and shipyards as far as twenty miles up the Mullica River. After Ferguson's raiders had embarked in their boats, seven of Pulaski's horsemen appeared and asked to speak to him. Their leader turned out to be Charles Juliat, who had deserted from the Hesse-Cassel Landgraf Regiment in Rhode Island and been appointed by Congress as a volunteer in the Pulaski's Legion. In exchange for a pardon, they guided Ferguson to Pulaski's camp during the night. About 4 a.m. the raiders charged into three houses and killed about fifty of the infantry contingent, mostly by bayonet. Pulaski arrived with the dragoons who had been posted in a second camp, rallied the infantry survivors, and drove Ferguson back to his boats in some confusion and with the loss of several men captured.

The Americans raised the charge of massacre, and the victors of this coup offered the usual denials. Most historians disagree on the date of the action, with estimates ranging between 5 October and 15 October. The action forced Washington to send the legion back from the front to be rebuilt; Collins lost the Zebra during the return voyage to New York when it ran aground in a storm. Juliat did not profit from his treason—he remained ostracized by the Hessians.

SEE ALSO Ferguson, Patrick.

                            revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.