Montresor's Island, New York

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Montresor's Island, New York

MONTRESOR'S ISLAND, NEW YORK. Owned by John Montresor from 1772 until the British evacuation of New York in November 1783, Montresor's Island (now called Randall's Island) lies at the mouth of the Harlem River. It was occupied by the British on 10 September 1776. "From that well-chosen advance post," comments the historian Douglas Southall Freeman, "they could land either on the plains of Harlem, south of Kings Bridge, or on the Morrisania estate, whence they could flank the position at Kings Bridge by a march of six or seven miles" (vol. IV, p. 187). Up until this time it had been used by the Americans as an isolation area for troops inoculated with smallpox. Learning from two deserters that the island was lightly held, General William Heath got General George Washington's authority to retake it. Lieutenant Colonel Michael Jackson of the Sixteenth Massachusetts Continental Infantry led 240 men in an attempt to surprise the outpost at dawn on 23 September (some sources give 24 September as the date of this action).

An American sentinel near the mouth of Harlem Creek had not been informed of this operation and fired at the friendly force as it passed on the way to Montresor's Island. Jackson landed about dawn with three field officers and men from the first boat. When the British guard attacked, the men in the other two boats pulled away instead of landing to join their leaders. In the withdrawal, about fourteen Americans were killed, wounded, or captured. Major Thomas Henly, General Heath's aide-de-camp, who had insisted on accompanying the attack, was killed as he re-entered the boat. Jackson was wounded by a musket ball in the leg. Freeman notes: "The delinquents in the other boats were arrested, and tried by court-martial, and one of the Captains cashiered" (vol. IV, pp. 73-76).

SEE ALSO Heath, William; Jackson, Michael; Montresor, John.


Freeman, Douglas Southall. George Washington, 7 vols. New York: Scribner's, 1948–1957.

                               revised by Barnet Schecter

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Montresor's Island, New York

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