of New Jersey
Richard Howell Governor of New Jersey 1794-1801
Richard Howell was the third governor of New Jersey after the American revolution. During the war he was commissioned as Captain of the 5th company and later promoted to brigade Major for Maxwell's Brigade in the 2nd New Jersey regiment. He served as one of General Washington's intelligence officers and later as a civilian secret agent. As commanding officer of his detachment Major Howell led a group of light horse and light infantry on surveillance missions at Sandy Hook and at several other locations in Northern New Jersey where he observed the British movements in and around New York harbor and Staten Island. He reported his observations to General Washington directly or through General Lord Stirling, General Maxwell, and Colonel Shreve.
He resigned his commission in April 1779 to pursue a career as a lawyer. (That is the official version.) The unofficial version is that he resigned to go to New York as a gentleman to engage in secret business for General Washington.
He was formally trained before the war in law and a self taught lawyer and sat as presiding officer on at least one Court Martial. He was admitted to the New Jersey bar in April 1779 the same month he resigned his commission. He was married to Keziah Burr in November of the same year.
In 1787 Richard Howell Esq, was a delegate from Gloucester county New Jersey and attended the convention to ratify the Constitution of the United States of America. He was nominated by congress for Attorney General of the Army but declined the commission. He was later Clerk of the Supreme court of New Jersey and in 1793 he was elected Governor of that state. He was also an original member of the Society of Cincinnati and a Freemason.
In December 1774 Richard Howell and his twin brother Lewis, participated in the Greenwich Tea Party where they along with perhaps 30 other patriots burnt a cargo of tea that was stored there in Greenwich New jersey. The tea had been removed from the ship Greyhound and stored in Greenwich for safe keeping after the Boston Tea Party in fear of a repeat performance in Boston. There is a memorial erected at the site of the Tea Burning bearing his and his brother Lewis' names.
In the fall of 1775 Richard Howell raised a company of infantry for the 2nd New Jersey regiment and was given a commission as Captain of that company. He soon embarked with his company in January 1776 and sailed for fort Ticonderoga where they prepared to march to join the Canadian campaign already underway and on the verge of failure. In early spring of 1776 Richard wrote his father from Albany New York:
March 4, 1776 :
" Dear Father : — I am now in Albany after a long and tedious march. One moment must be devoted to your service, tho' hitherto I have neglected you. But ceremonies do not pronounce affection — though I wrote not, you were not forgotten. I have struggled through the difficulties of my office with a patience that I did not think myself possessed of, and am now able to await whatever may succeed. I expect to assist at the siege of Quebec, and I shall not dishonor my connections. Be you and my ever patient mother content with what may happen me, as I am resigned to my fortune. Do not be distressed if any accident reach my brother. We fight a battle urged by nature's oldest laws — the preservation of ourselves, our parents, and our Country. I am short — be always happy.
Your Son, Richard Howell.
After the defeat at Quebec and during his retreat Richard wrote his father from Three Rivers and gave the following account:
At Trois Rivieres, May 20, 1776 :
" My Dear Father : — I have a moment to write to you ; if my letter may reach you I shall be very happy, but that is extremely uncertain. I am now in a town called the Three Rivers, and in circumstances not very eligible, but as happy as possible in adversity. We retreated from before Quebec (as you, I doubt not, have heard) with precipitation, and that three days after our arrival. To be obliged to retreat so soon was discouraging to new troops; and a number of our men who were dispersed at several posts and on fatigue, who were unacquainted with our route, are lost in the country, or taken prisoners in town. Provision is become scarce, even not to be procured, and those, who otherwise had the virtue to stay with their officers, deserted for want of food. Distressing, indeed, are these circumstances, yet all may be surmounted by a constant mind. To be taken prisoner is death to a man accustomed to freedom, but I am equal to either fortune. In the affair before Quebec, I was the only officer who was much exposed to either, and happily both were evaded. I was that day reconnoitering the town from the advanced posts, to inform myself of its situation, as every measure seemed to indicate an approaching retreat. The walls were crowded with men, and they fired incessantly on every object, even at me, a single person. I heard an English voice commanding in the town, the bells rang and drums beat, which induced me to go still further, if possible, to discover their movements, and I went on until I discovered a party of light infantry who were endeavoring to surround and take me prisoner. I then retreated to the centinel, who motioned me to come that way. I desired him to fire, if they approached, and retreat, then returned to get a party to bring him off, but as soon as they saw I had got beyond them, they poured a platoon about my ears as I retreated. When I came to the guard I asked a party to support the centinel, and with three divisions, of ten men each, marched off to the ground. I ordered two divisions to the several posts, and with my own advanced to the pass the enemy would approach by, but did not then observe them. I then changed my course, and discovered the infantry scouting near the centinel. We advanced and they halted, acting as if our friends, by pointing and skulking towards their main body . . . deceived by their dress, and advanced as if deceived, until within shot, when we gave them our compliments and retired. I shot first at the officer, who fell, by the assertion of many — the others, in turn, with good aim, and they say three of the enemy fell. The infantry gave us one fire, the main body another, and the field pieces remembered us a good while with their grapes. Providence protected us from danger, and we returned to join our main line ; but when we had reached head- quarters, who was there ! about one hundred and fifty Jersey Blues, and the enemy just by. The Yankoes were run away, and we all ran away. The Blues offered again to fight and were forming, the General bade us go on, the Yankoes were gone on, and we marched quick time again. Well we went then to Jacartie. The enemy's ships followed, and were landing. We formed to fight, they retired, but the Yankoes ran away. At Point De Chambeau we marched to fight them, they retired abroad, but the Yankoes did not come up. In short, I am tired of recollecting what is past. Give my respect to my friends, show them, if you please, my letter, and
"Am yours, "Richard Howell. " To Ebenezer Howell, Cumberland County. " To the care of Thos. McKean, Esq., " Member of Congress, . . . West New Jersey."
With the help of reinforcements and additional supplies the tired and ailing Patriots had remained outside the city of Quebec. But as the British Navy sailed towards Quebec in May, the Patriots were already in retreat towards Montreal. Governor Carleton pursued the Patriots, and soon after Richard wrote his father from Three Rivers they turned to fight. On June 8 at Trois-Rivieres, halfway between the two cities the highly trained Redcoats and German mercenaries made quick work of the colonists, killing 25, wounding 140 and capturing 236, Governor Carleton discontinued his pursuit and allowed the rest of the 2,500-man force to complete their retreat to Montreal. It was a temporary respite for the Patriots: by June 15, Montreal too had returned to British control. Colonel Benedict Arnold must have realized that the Patriots' priorities had changed, he wrote to General Sullivan, "let us quit and secure our own country before it is too late."
Captain Howell had now been baptised in the blood of battle and had somehow survived. And If his letter to his father is a true accounting of his actions, he had shown a great deal of courage and leadership in the facing down the Enemy. Evidently Howell had done something right during this campaign because he was promoted to Brigade Major in September of the same year. 26 September 1776, Richard Howell in a letter mentions his promotion to the rank of Major while at Mt. Independence near Saratoga.
There are several letters in private holdings and in several public and private depositories around the country that I will later provide copies of as reference material. There is also a large amount of correspondence between Major Richard Howell and General Washington and other officers in Washington's Papers held at the University of Virginia and Library of Congress. Below are a few examples of this correspondence.
G.W. understood both the uses and limits of logic in analyzing intelligence reports. In three and-a-half years of war, he had learned that the British would not always choose any course of action just because he and other American leaders thought it was the most reasonable one for them to take. G.W. also appreciated the importance of casting a wide net in gathering intelligence and of keeping intermediaries between him and the sources of that information most of the time. During the fall of 1778, his principal intelligence managers were Brig. Gen. Charles Scott and Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge in Westchester County, N.Y., and in northern New Jersey, Brig. Gen. William Maxwell and Major General Stirling.GW sent them instructions, and they forwarded to him news of all sorts. Their sources included scouts and patrols, local inhabitants, deserters and prisoners of war, newspapers and intercepted letters, captured orderly books, and spies. Prominent among the scouts were Maj. Henry Lee, Jr., in Westchester County and Maj. Richard Howell in Monmouth County, New Jersey. The few identifiable spies include the senior and junior Samuel Culpers (the pseudonyms of Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend), who operated on Long Island and in New York City, and John Vanderhovan, who gathered intelligence in the camps and coffee houses of Staten Island. Always eager for information about the enemy’s intentions, GW directed Rev. Alexander McWhorter on 12 Oct. to try to obtain useful intelligence from two men who had been condemned to death for spying and counterfeiting when he undertook to “prepare them for the other world.” What, if anything, they confessed to the clergyman before they went to that other world on 3 Nov. is not known
In the face of mounting British and Loyalist activity in Southern Jersey the task of Colonel Israel Shreve's 2nd New Jersey regiment was to keep the enemy off balance by harassing their outposts and denying them subsistence. On 6 April General Washington had written the colonel he hoped Majr Richard Howell may be able to effect something against the Tories at Billingsport, who may probably be surprized by a vigilant Officer. If Cattle or provisions of any kind can be collected in any parts of the Country within the Enemy's reach, it ought by all means to be done."1
The attack on the works at Billingsport, "where about 150 tories had been intrenching and fortifying themselves," proved an ill‑fated affair. Israel Shreve gave his account of what occurred to the commander in chief in a letter dated "Mount Holley April 6th 1778":
"Last friday Evening a Messenger came to haddonfield from below, informing me, the Militia [of Salem and Cumberland Counties] were imbodied to the number of 200 and Desirous to march into the Neighbourhood of Billingsport on Saturday[4 April]. To Incourage them I ordered Major Howell Down with 100 men [from the 2nd New Jersey] to join them, there to Act as should seem Best when on the Spot. The same morning about 100 Enemy Tories marched out of Billingsport towards Sweedsborough, fell in with Capt. Fizlow [possibly Joel Fithian, captain in Colonel Enos Seeley's battalion of New Jersey State troops] with 50 [New Jersey] Militia, who attacked them [and] kiled 5 or 6. [The militia] Drove them off with the Greatest precipitation. By this time Major Howell got to Samtown 4 miles from the fort, [and] hearing they were out, pushed down to the fort. Got within one mile when the Enemy returned by a Back road. The fort being Alarmed, and the Militia not Comeing up, the Major Returned, takeing one Waggon, and 5 Tories, our post at Haddonfield being Exceeding week. The major got in that night leaveing Capt. [Nathaniel] Bowman with 50 men at Woodberry."
With his forces now divided between Haddonfield, Coopers Ferry, and Woodbury, Shreve’s position was vulnerable.
1. Washington to Israel Shreve, 6 April 1778, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745‑1799, 11 (Washington, D.C., GPO, 1934), 222‑223. 2. Shreve to Washington, 6 April 1778, George Washington Papers, Presidential Papers Microfilm, (Washington, D.C., 1961), series 4, roll 48 (hereafter cited as GW Papers). Francis B. Lee, ed., Archives of the State of New Jersey ‑ Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey, 2nd series, vol. II (Trenton, 1903), Extracts From American Newspapers, 1778, 148‑149.
Two days later the colonel wrote:
"Last Evening I Receiv'd an Express from David Furman [colonel Forman’s Additional regiment] ... Giveing an Account of the Enemys Behavour at the Works, they Landed in flat Bottomed Boats at Squan River, [and] Burnt All the Works on that River ... furman has Detaind the troops that was ordered to join me, on account of the Enemys Appearing ... I have Received no Reinforcement since my last letter, I have three small parties below, ‑ I have with the advice of the other field officers, ordered the two iron pieces of Artillery to be sent back to some secure place with a small Guard, and the [artillery] men Act with the other Militia as Musketmen. Major Howell will march Downwards this Evening, the Remainder will follow in the Morning, [I am] sending off Everything that is Cumbersome ‑ and the whole [will] Act as light troops, in Scouting between this post and Swedesborough, in order to stop trade as much as possable, Moving from place to place untill Reignforced by Militia [or] Continental [troops]."6
6. Israel Shreve to George Washington, 9 April 1778, Shreve Papers, Rutgers (Houston).
Even while the New Jersey troops attempted to foil British incursions there were various other duties to perform. In late March or early April Shreve had tried by court martial two men accused of desertion to the enemy. Washington wrote on April 6th that "As no Officer under the Rank of a Brigadier commanding in a seperate state has a power of appointing a general Court Martial, I am obliged to disapprove the sentences as illegal; but that the "prisoner Seeds may not escape, I have inclosed you a power to constitute another Court ... By the Resolve of Congress we are not empowered to try persons inhabitants of the States, if taken more than thirty Miles from the Head Quarters of the Army, you must therefore deliver up Carter to the Civil Authority." Contrary to this last order both men were retried on April 8th. The trial was held at "3 O'Clock at Mr. Woods tavern" in Mount Holly with Major Richard Howell as president and Major [Anthony] Sharp [2nd Battalion Salem County Militia]; Captains [John] Hollinshead, [John] Cummings, [William] Helms [all of the 2nd New Jersey]; Captain Jones and Captain Lieutenant Chambers [units unknown]; and Lieutenants [Samuel] Naglee, [Aaron or Derick] Lane, [Abraham] Appleton, [Nathaniel] Jenkins [all of the 2nd New Jersey], [Isaiah] Yard [Hunterdon County militia] and [George] McClaughlin [1st Battalion Cumberland County militia] as members. The prisoners were William Seeds of the 4th New Jersey Regiment and Samuel Carter of Colonel Otto's Battalion of Jersey Militia. Both men were found guilty by a "Majority of more than two thirds" and sentenced to "Suffer Death by hanging by the Neck untill" dead. Notwithstanding Washington's directive concerning Carter, he was tried, condemned and most probably executed as Seeds was later on April 23rd.4 4. Washington to Israel Shreve, 6 April 1778, ibid., 222. Israel Shreve to Washington, 8 April 1778, Washington Papers, series 4, roll 48.
Washington Papers, Reel 50, Richard Howell to Philemon Dickinson or Washington, from Haddonfield, June 20, 1778. "... before we Left our Detachment, the Genl. [Maxwell] had no Intelligence and, being acquainted with the Country, I have procured such as was in my powr. ... The Enemy march'd in 3 Columns, the first approached Ayres Town yesterday, the 2d [column] arriv'd at foster town & the 3d did [not???????] move. This day the 1st [column] arrived at Mt Holly, 2d at Ayres town (perhaps at Holly) & the 3d March'd to Moor's Town. Genl. Leslie commands the advanced Column of perhaps 2000 men, Gen. Clinton the 2d perhaps of 5000 men & Gen. Kniphauzen the Last of 2000 also. Each of these divisions has a great many Waggons, artillery & pontoons. They have many Deserters & move with great Caution & Slowly ‑ I believe they will halt at Holly untill the rear arrives. Their March has been obstructed as much as possible & their flancks harrass'd by our parties. The General is now posted at Black Horse, where he will contend every advantageous post. The Militia are Collected & collecting, resolv'd to do great things. P.S. The Inhabitants are villianously plundered & some Houses burnt."
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