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Before Ticonderoga: The 26th Regiment in New Jersey and New York, 1767-1772

Captain William Delaplace of the British 26th Regiment of Foot famously surrendered Fort Ticonderoga to Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen in the early morning hours of May 10, 1775. The surrender came after Delaplace, and the men of the regiment had peacefully garrisoned American cities and towns for nearly eight years. Their first five years in America were spent in some of the most heavily populated areas of the colonies, a far cry from the distant and somewhat lonely posts at Ticonderoga or Crown Point.

The regiment arrived in North America in the summer of 1767. Unusually the regiment’s Colonel, General John Scott accompanied the regiment across the Atlantic where he explored the American colonies. They landed in New York City in the midst of an important shift in colonial policy. Following the appointment of Lord Hillsborough as Secretary of State for the Colonies in January 1768, frontier posts across America were abandoned and the army concentrated in the newer British colonies of Canada and the Floridas, and the urban areas of the Atlantic coast. The 26th was quickly shipped across New York harbor to New Jersey were they ultimately spent three years.

The area around New York Harbor was familiar territory for the 26th Regiment prior to being sent to Montréal in 1772. Mappa Geograhica Provinciæ Novæ Eboraci ab Anglis New York, Claude Joseph Sauthier, 1778. (Fort Ticonderoga Museum Collection, 2018.6.22)
The area around New York Harbor was familiar territory for the 26th Regiment prior to being sent to Montréal in 1772. Mappa Geograhica Provinciæ Novæ Eboraci ab Anglis New York, Claude Joseph Sauthier, 1778. (Fort Ticonderoga Museum Collection, 2018.6.22)

During the French and Indian War, New Jersey had built a series of barracks to quarter British soldiers coming to America to fight the French. Originally barracks were constructed across the province in Burlington, Trenton, Brunswick, Elizabeth, and Perth-Amboy. Only one of these survives to this day, in Trenton. The 26th regiment took up their quarters on the east side of the state in the barracks Brunswick, Elizabeth, and Perth-Amboy.

Shortly after arriving the 26th was called upon to form a Funeral Guard following the death of Colonel Sir John St. Clair. St. Clair had served as Quarter-Master General in America during the French and Indian War and settled in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He married Elizabeth “Betsey” Moland, the daughter of John Moland, King’s Attorney to Pennsylvania and one of the most respected lawyers in the colonies. Betsey’s story arcs back to ours when a little over a year later, in March of 1769, she married Dudley Templar, the 26th’s Lieutenant Colonel and effectively its commander while in North America. Although still referred to as Lady St. Clair after her marriage to Templar, she accompanied the regiment on its future postings. In 1774 her youngest brother, Joseph Moland, acquired an Ensigncy in the regiment. He was later captured on Lake Champlain and held in Connecticut, where he tried twice to escape rebel hands near the end of 1776.

Perth Amboy, New Jersey is where the regiment arrived in July of 1767 for its first posting in North America. Part of the regiment occupied the barracks, which can be seen on this detail of the town. The barracks appear are the U shaped black building depicted near the top of this map, on the road leading northwest, out of town. Detail, The Provinces of New York, and New Jersey, Thomas Jefferys, 1776.
Perth Amboy, New Jersey is where the regiment arrived in July of 1767 for its first posting in North America. Part of the regiment occupied the barracks, which can be seen on this detail of the town. The barracks appear are the U shaped black building depicted near the top of this map, on the road leading northwest, out of town. Detail, The Provinces of New York, and New Jersey, Thomas Jefferys, 1776. (Fort Ticonderoga Museum Collection, 2018.6.23)

Garrison duty in New Jersey was largely uneventful. Tradesmen in the regiment: blacksmiths, miners, masons, carpenters, and sawyers, were set to work for the British military, some transferred as far away as Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario. Tailors maintained the regiment’s clothing and soldiers drilled to maintain proficiency at arms, according to orders “Every Soldier” was trained “to Fire Ball in all directions ‘till he is a good marksman.” The regiment arrived to New Jersey in a sickly condition, but by 1769 when they were formally reviewed by the Commander in Chief, General Thomas Gage, it was noted “The Troops made a fine Appearance, and went through their Exercise with the greatest Exactness and Dexterity, to the entire Satisfaction of his Excellency.”

Colonial garrisons were reshuffled in early 1770 in the wake of the Boston “massacre.” The regiment caught up in the incident, the 29th Regiment, was released from Boston and was slated to replace the 26th in New Jersey. Consequently the 26th re-crossed New York Harbor and marched to their new quarters in Manhattan in time to parade along the Greenwich Road on the west side of the city for the King’s Birthday celebrations on June 4th.

One of the familiar locations for the regiment in New York City was Bolton & Sigell’s Tavern. Officers had been coming there for courts martial since 1768 and in 1770 “the Friendly Brothers of the 26th Regt. of the antient and most benevolent Order of St. Patrick” proposed a dinner there. Also known as the Queen’s Head Tavern, the establishment was owned by Samuel Fraunces who leased the operations to Bolton and Sigell. Eventually the tavern took its owner’s name, by which it is more familiarly known today: Fraunces Tavern. Interestingly enough, in addition to hosting British officers, the tavern was the founding location of the New York Chamber of Commerce and a center of the non-importation movement, before becoming famous as the site of Washington’s final farewell to the officers of the Continental Army in 1783.

The badge of the 26th Regiment would have been a familiar site to the colonists of the mid-Atlantic, by the time they left New York City in 1772. Elements of the regiment returned to New York in 1776, when the prisoners captured in Canada in 1775 were released and re-joined the British army. (Fort Ticonderoga Museum Collection, 2019.5.5, photo: Gavin Ashworth)
The badge of the 26th Regiment would have been a familiar site to the colonists of the mid-Atlantic, by the time they left New York City in 1772. Elements of the regiment returned to New York in 1776, when the prisoners captured in Canada in 1775 were released and re-joined the British army. (Fort Ticonderoga Museum Collection, 2019.5.5, photo: Gavin Ashworth)

The specter of war with Spain over the Falkland Islands in 1770 saw the regiment’s establishment size increased and it was authorized to recruit in America. Stationed in New York they were allowed to recruit men above 5 foot 6 inches tall from west side of the Connecticut River, through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland to the east side of the Potomac. War fears died down though and military officials planned the next assignment for the regiments in America.

The 26th Regiment very nearly did not get assigned to Ticonderoga. Among the most unpopular, and unhealthy, of Britain’s colonies was East Florida. With its capital at St. Augustine, the region had been ceded by the Spanish in the Peace of 1763. To make the assignment to this undesirable post the fairest General Gage proposed assigning a regiment by drawing lots. It came down to the 26th in New York and the 29th in New Jersey. Both regiments were ordered to prepare returns of their camp equipage and both were reviewed. Gage was “much pleas’d with the Behavour and Appearance of the 26th. Regt’s Review” and in the end the 29th drew the short straw and prepared to embark from New Jersey for Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

A new assignment was near for the 26th as well. In April 1772, Gage determined to relieve the 1st Battalion of the 60th Regiment, headquartered in Montréal, with “the 26th Regiment quartered in New York.” Gage personally reviewed the regiment, and in three “divisions” they began their transfer to Canada on June 5th, 1772. Moving north in these divisions, they were able to progressively relieve the 1st Battalion, 60th Regiment in just four months. Like their predecessors, the regimental headquarters would be in Montréal, with detachments stationed at various places along the waterways. The most distant detachment, under a Captain, occupied Crown Point, and provided an additional guard for the fort at Ticonderoga. Lieutenant Jocelyn Feltham officially took command at Ticonderoga on June 9, 1772, beginning the regiment’s fateful history in the Champlain Valley.