Piscataway, New Jersey

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Piscataway, New Jersey

PISCATAWAY, NEW JERSEY. 10 May 1777. Major General Adam Stephen played a major role in the skirmishing between American patrols and British foraging expeditions in northern New Jersey during the early months of 1777. This role fell to him in large measure because his Virginia regiments had not been affected by the expiration of enlistments as the majority of units in the main army had been. British forces occupied positions stretching from Brunswick to Amboy. Acting on his own authority, Stephen decided to make a surprise attack on Piscataway, about midway between the extremes of the British line; the garrison consisted of the Highlanders of the Forty-second Foot (Black Watch) supported by six companies of light infantry. Stephen formed an 800-man strike force from detachments of the regiments in his division, but the British detected its approach and augmented the normal picket with another 300 men. The raiders collided with that outpost and a fight ensued which lasted about an hour and one-half until additional British troops arrived and forced Stephen's men to withdraw. Stephen reported that he had lost 3 killed and 24 wounded; he felt that the British had lost about 70 dead and another 120 wounded. British accounts claimed that they had lost one man wounded and estimated American casualties at 11 killed, 17 wounded, 33 captured, and an additional 73 missing. The truth is probably in between, as several Hessian accounts put the American casualties around 50 or 60 and the British put them closer to 30. Stephen filed his official report two days later, and Washington immediately rebuked him for exaggeration, citing contradictory reports he had received from other officers. While the skirmish itself had no military significance, it severely strained the "always uneasy relations" between the two generals (Ward, pp. 168-172).

SEE ALSO Stephen, Adam.


Ward, Harry M. Major General Adam Stephen and the Cause of American Liberty. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989.

                        revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.