Knowlton's Rangers, 1776

After the American defeat on Long Island, Aug. 27, '76, a small body of select troops was organized for special service along the lines and placed under the command of Lieut.-Col. Thomas Knowlton of Durkee's Conn. Regt. 20th Continental. Col. Knowlton, a veteran of the French and Indian war, had distinguished himself at Bunker Hill and in one or two subsequent exploits during the siege of Boston, and was peculiarly fitted to lead a partisan corps. The detachment in question, known as Knowlton's "Rangers," was composed of officers and men chosen from different regiments, to which they were to return when no longer needed. Knowlton appears to have selected officers whom he knew, which accounts for the large proportion from Connecticut; the men also were largely from the same date. The command was small, not over one hundred and thirty or forty. Its first service gave it no little reputation in the army. After the retreat from New York, Sept. 15, '76--the troops in general being more or less depressed--Washington ordered Knowlton to move out early on the 16th from Harlem Heights and ascertain the position of the enemy. Knowlton marched over Bloomingdale Heights, and found the enemy's outposts somewhere along the line of 110th St. on the main road, now Broadway. A skirmish occurred and Knowlton fell back to the American lines, then stretching along 125th St. from vicinity of 8th Avenue west to the Hudson. The British Light Infantry followed him. Washington thereupon directed Knowlton to attack again, turning their right, while other troops attacked them in front and left. A successful engagement followed, the enemy being driven back over the Bloomingdale's grounds with loss. In the affair, Knowlton was mortally wounded, and died during the action, greatly regretted. In General Orders of Sept. 17, Washington referred to him as "the gallant and brave Col. Knowlton who would have been an honour to any country."

Knowlton's Senior Captain--Stephen Brown, of Woodstock--succeeded to the command of the "Rangers," but in a few days returned to his regiment--Durkee's. The other captains, so far as the records indicate, were Thomas Grosvenor, of Pomfret, and Nathan Hale, of Coventry. Grosvenor seems to have retired with Brown, and Hale, the "Martyr Spy," was then absent within the enemy's lines. As the next commander of the "Rangers," Washington appointed, Oct. 1, '76, Maj. Andrew Colburn, of Nixon's Mass. Regt. He was wounded before the end of the month and retired. The command devolved thereafter upon Lieut., afterwards Captain, Lemuel Holmes, of Sargeant's Mass. Regt. Upon the withdrawal of the army to White Plains and subsequently through New Jersey, it was proposed either to disband the "Rangers" or have them accompany the main force; but Col. Robert Magaw, of Pennsylvania, then commanding at Fort Washington, on New York Island below King's Bridge, urgently requested their continuance with him as being his main dependence for the security of his outposts. They accordingly remained on the Harlem lines until Nov. 16, 1776, when Fort Washington and the entire garrison were captured by the enemy.

The "Rangers" thus disappear as prisoners. Oliver Burnham, one of the detachment--afterwards Judge Burnham, of Conn.--writing after the war, says: "We remained until the sixteenth of November in this situation ("near Harlem") when we were warmly engaged on all sides. We were about two miles below the fort and well sustained the attack until the enemy made good their landing across Harlem river, when we had hard fighting to reach the fort. Just as we had reached the gate, the flag went out and surrendered the fort and ourselves prisoners of war."

It is worth while to note that the first three commanders of this corps fell in action during the war--Col. Knowlton at Harlem Heights; Capt. Brown at Ft. Mifflin, Penn., Nov. 16, '77; Maj. Colburn, as Lieut.-Col., at Saratoga, Sept. 19, '77. Capt. Holmes, the last in command, remained a prisoner two years.

The following roll of the "Rangers" is compiled from printed and Mss. records. The list of non-commissioned officers and privates is arranged from the papers of Capt. Lemuel Holmes, now in the Pension Bureau, Washington, and includes only the names of those who were captured with him at Ft. Washington. It doubtless represents the greater part of the original detachment.


Lieut.-Colonel: Thomas Knowlton Ashford Detached from Durkee's Conn. Cont. Regt. About Sept. 1, '76, to command of "Rangers"; mortally wounded in the "affair" or battle of Harlem Heights, Sept. 16; buried with military honors within the American lines on present Washington Heights, N. Y.
Major: Andrew Colburn[Footnote: Maj. Colburn was doubtless the same officer who in the following year appeared as Lieut.-Col. Of the Third Regt. New Hampshire "Line" and fell in the first engagement with Burgoyne's army near Stillwater, Sept. 19, '77. He came from North Marlborough in that State. New Hampshire Major of Nixon's Mass. Cont. Regt., appt. to command of "Rangers," Oct. 1; wounded Oct.--and retired.
Adjutant: Thomas U. Fosdick New London Ensign in Chas. Webb's Regt.
Captain: Stephen Brown Woodstock Of Durkee's Regt.; in command of "Rangers," after Knowlton's death until about Oct. 1, when he returned to his Regt.; see Durkee's Regt. '77.
Captain: Thomas Grosvenor Pomfret Of Durkee's Regt.; returned to his Regt. About Oct. 1; cont. in '77.
Captain: Nathan Hale Coventry Of Chas. Webb's Conn. Cont. Regt.; absent as spy in enemy's lines; executed Sept. 22, '76; see Webb's Regt. '76.
Captain: Lemuel Holmes[Footnote: Capt. Lemuel Holmes, of Sargent's Mass. Regt., also belonged to New Hampshire, town of Surry.] New Hampshire 1st Lieut. Sargent's Mass. Cont. Regt.; rept. As Capt. Oct. 15, and commanded "Rangers," succeeding Maj. Colburn; prisoner Nov. 16, '76; exch. Nov., '78.
Lieutenant: Oliver Babcock[Footnote: "On the 25th of Jan. 1777, died Lieut. Oliver Babcock, of Stonington, in the 36th year of his age. He returned home from imprisonment in New York on the 8th of the month, and was taken sick of the Small Pox the 12th, of which Distemper he died, leaving a disconsolate widow and three small children."--Conn. Gazette, Feb. 14, 1777.] Stonington 1st Lieut. Parsons' Cont. Regt.; taken pris. Nov. 16, '76, at Fort Washington; exch. About Jan. 1, '77; died Jan. 25.
Lieutenant: Jesse Grant Litchfield Of Chas. Webb's Regt.; pris. Nov. 16, Ft. Washington; exch. Dec. 17, '80.
Lieutenant: Abner Bacon[Footnote: A few of the officers and men in the "Rangers" were detached from Col. John Chester's State Regiment, which reinforced Washington's army in the summer of 1776. See Wadsworth's Brigade, Militia and State Troops.] Canterbury 1st Lieut. Chester's State Regt.; cont. in '77.
Lieutenant: Ephraim Cleveland Mass. 1st Lieut. Sargent's Regt.
Lieutenant: Aaron Stratten Mass. 1st Lieut. Sargent's Regt.
Lieutenant: William Scott Mass. 1st Lieut. Sargent's Regt.
Lieutenant: Jacob Pope Mass. 2d Lieut.-Col. Jona Ward's Mass. Regt.; cashiered Sept. 28, '76.
Ensign: Benoni Shipman New Haven Of Chas. Webb's Regt.; cont. in '77.
Ensign: Aaron Cleaveland Canterbury Of Chester's State Regt.
Ensign: Daniel Knowlton Ashford Of Chester's State Regt.; taken prisoner Nov. 26, at Ft. Washington; elder brother of Col. Knowlton.
Ensign: Thomas Hender Hartford Of Col. Wyllys' Conn. Cont. Regt.; taken prisoner at Ft. Washington, Nov. 16, '76.
Ensign: Ebenezer West - Of Hitchcock's R. I. Cont. Regt.


Taken Prisoners at Surrender of Ft. Washington, N. Y. Island, Nov. 16, '76.


Benjamin Irish
William Stuart

Nath'l Chesebrough
John Lay
George Wilson
Roswell Becket
Jabez Dewey
William Ashcraft
Joseph Sheffield
Roger Billings
Phineas Ellis
Reuben Shespicks
Ammon Harvey
Joshua Davis
Seth Norton
Jos. Hancock
Daniel Sampson
Abner Cole
Daniel Vanderpole
Moses Gun
Enoch Greenward
Thomas Skespicks
Charles Kelley
James Cheesbrough
Jos. Lankfort
Jos. Smith
Joel Jones, died Jan. 17.
Daniel Conner
Daniel Hitt
William Pearce


John Benton

Simeon Linsey
Elisha Taylor
Seth Done
Richard Chamberlain
Timothy Hubbert
Samuel Fails
Oliver Burnham
Asa Barns
Thomas Holmes
Levy Latimer


David Thorp
Samuel Laes

Samuel Peck
Elisha Howel
Elisha Judson
William Jones
Elisha Peck
Samuel Robbins, died Jan. 14.
Thomas Herdike
David Beauel
Samuel Smith
James Bugbee
Roger Blaisdel
Hull Curtiss
Zephaniah Cummings, died Feb. 7.
Thomas Cook
Benjamin Devenport
Thomas Fargo
Elihu Grant
Timothy Hodges
Samuel Hale

Serjt. Stephen Hempstead, New London, of Webb's Regt., a "Ranger," wounded at Harlem Heights.


Abijah Read (Canterbury), died Jan. 28.
Perese Ainsworth

Jacob Pettibone
Rufus Downing
Rufus Hibbert
Jedediah Dyer, died Jan. 20.
Abner Adams
John Waid
Philip Williams
John Trarveret
Thomas Stone
Timothy Cady
Pender Jenison
Philip Abbott
Edward Hughes
John Hobbs
Luman Long
Richard Parsons, died Jan. 19.
Hezekiah Wadsworth
Aden Marcey
John Miner
William Woodward
John Cooks
Josiah Underwood
John Adams, died Jan. 16.


Frederick Putnam
John Rains

Niles Beckwith
Josiah Macomber

Nath'l Turner
Daniel Griswold
Joseph Goodrich, died Dec. 2.
Joseph Spencer, died Nov. 2.
William Scott
Nicholas Ashley
Aaron Pettibone
Samuel Silsby
William Woodward
Levy Proctor
Israel Sheldon
Eliphalet Mason
Barna How
William Crowfoot
John Mores
Aaron Woodward
John Taylor
Barna Allien, died Nov. 28.
Joshua Wright

Corp. George Wilson, of "Rangers," mentioned--reduced to ranks, Sept. 28, '76, for plundering.

Note.--The year of the deaths above is not given. They occurred before Nov., '78.

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