Paterson, John

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Paterson, John

PATERSON, JOHN. (1744–1808). Continental general. Connecticut-Massachusetts. Born at Farmington in late 1743 or early 1744, John Paterson was the son of John Paterson, who served in six campaigns of the French and Indian War and who died at Havana on 5 September 1762, just before his son graduated from Yale College. The son taught school for several years while studying the law and then began to practice. In 1774 he moved to Lenox, Massachusetts, and quickly became prominent in the Revolutionary politics of Berkshire County. He was elected to the General Court in May 1774, was a member of the county convention in July 1774 that supported Boston's boycott of British imports, and in 1774 and 1775 sat in the Provincial Congress, which appointed him colonel of his local minuteman regiment. An impressive-looking man, over six feet tall and vigorous until late in life, he had long shown a taste for military life. When news of Lexington and Concord reached Lenox, he marched within eighteen hours (on 22 April) for Boston with his regiment fully armed and almost completely in uniform. On 27 May 1775 he was commissioned colonel of a provincial regiment created around six of the former minuteman companies. The regiment was posted near Prospect Hill, where it built and garrisoned Fort No. 3, and served through the siege of Boston. It was held in reserve during the Battle of Bunker Hill. On 9 November 1775 it was involved in driving off an enemy foraging raid on Lechmere Point.

Paterson continued in service as colonel of the Fifteenth Continental Regiment from 1 January 1776. In March 1776 he accompanied the army to New York City and was then sent with Brigadier General William Thompson to Canada. Major Henry Sherburne led one hundred men of the regiment to relieve a American force under attack at The Cedars and was nearly wiped out in an ambush on 20 May. Paterson and the rest of the regiment retreated south up Lake Champlain with Benedict Arnold's column. After working on the defenses of Mount Independence, opposite Ticonderoga, from July until November 1776, he moved south to join Washington's army on the Delaware and took part in the Battles of Trenton and Princeton.

He was promoted to brigadier general on 21 February 1777 and returned to the Northern Department with his brigade, serving with Matthias de Fermoy's and Enoch Poor's brigades under Arthur St. Clair in the operations that ended with the evacuation of Ticonderoga from 2 to 5 July. His Third Massachusetts Brigade (10th, 11th, 12th, and 14th Massachusetts Regiments) helped to hold the lines on Bemis Heights, not seeing combat at Freeman's Farm (19 September 1777). At Bemis Heights (7 October) the brigade joined Benedict Arnold in the attack on the Balcarres redoubt, where Paterson's horse was shot out from under him by a cannonball. The brigade wintered at Valley Forge in 1777–1778 and participated in the Monmouth Campaign in June and July 1778, without seeing any action. Paterson spent the rest of the war in the Hudson Highlands, watching the Massachusetts Line deteriorate through inaction. He sat on the court-martial that condemned John André to be hung as a spy in September 1780. He helped to found the Society of the Cincinnati, was breveted major general on 30 September 1783, and retired from the army on 3 November.

Paterson resumed his law practice at Lenox after the war and held many public offices. In early 1786 he helped Rufus Putnam and Benjamin Tupper organize the Ohio Company and later that year displayed compassion and moderation in helping to end Shays's Rebellion as commander of the Berkshire militia. In 1790 Paterson became a proprietor of the Boston Purchase (ten townships in Broome and Tioga Counties in New York, north of the Susquehanna River and west of the Chenango River), and in 1791 he moved to Lisle (later Whitney's Point) with his family. He served in the New York legislature (1792–1793), the state constitutional convention of 1801, and in the U.S. House of Representatives (1803–1805). In 1798 he was appointed to the bench and was judge of the two counties. He died on 19 July 1808 at Lisle.

SEE ALSO Cedars, The; Lechmere Point, Massachusetts; Ticonderoga, New York, British Capture of.


Egleston, Thomas. The Life of John Paterson: Major General in the Revolutionary Army. New York: Putnam's Sons, 1894.

                              revised by Harold E. Selesky