Ambush of Geary

Ambush of Geary
Part of the American Revolutionary War
1806 map of the area
Date December 14, 1776
Location East Amwell Township, New Jersey, near Ringoes
Coordinates: 40°25′52″N 74°51′39″W / 40.43111°N 74.86083°W / 40.43111; -74.86083
Kingdom of Great Britain 16th (Queen's) Light Dragoons United States Local Patriot militia
Commanders and leaders
Cornet Francis Geary  Captain John Schenck
8 8
Casualties and losses
One killed None
Ambush site is located in New Jersey
Ambush site

The Ambush of Geary was a skirmish of the American Revolutionary War fought on December 14, 1776 near Ringoes in Amwell Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Cornet Francis Geary, the leader of a company of dragoons, was shot in an ambush set up by local militiamen.

After British forces captured New York City in the first part of the New York and New Jersey campaign, they established outposts throughout central New Jersey. Geary, the son of Admiral Sir Francis Geary, was operating from a station at Pennington when he was killed in the ambush. His body was concealed and later buried in a shallow grave, preventing its recovery by British troops. In the 19th century local historical interest led to the confirmation of his grave's location, and the establishment of markers at the site and in England.

Making a casualty of Geary was one of a number of militia actions that resulted in a reduced scope of British reconnaissance, contributing to the eventual success of George Washington's crossing of the Delaware and success at Trenton.



After General William Howe successfully drove George Washington's Continental Army out of New York City in the fall of 1776, Washington retreated across New Jersey, pursued by General Charles Cornwallis. Washington retreated all the way across the Delaware River in early December, and the British began arranging winter quarters in New Jersey, establishing a chain of outposts from Perth Amboy to Bordentown.[1]

The British and their Hessian allies regularly sent out reconnaissance and foraging parties. These were vulnerable to attack by local Patriot militia companies. The area around the Trenton outpost, commanded by Johann Rall and populated primarily by Hessians, was particularly vulnerable to these militia raids, as was a detachment of the 16th (Queen's) Light Dragoons posted not far away from Trenton at Pennington. Hunterdon County, north of Trenton, was an area where atrocities were reported in early December, including claims of rape of girls and pregnant women, perpetrated by groups of British and German soldiers; these reports contributed to an increase in Patriot militia activity in the area north of Trenton.[2]

Cornet Francis Geary was the eldest son and heir of Admiral Sir Francis Geary and Mary Bartholomew. Born in 1752, he was raised in Surrey and educated at Balliol College, Oxford. Purchasing a cornetcy in the 16th Light Dragoons in 1773, Geary was sent to North America in 1776, arriving in New York at the end of September. In October and November, Geary's unit was mainly occupied with forays in northern New Jersey where they met little organized resistance, but on 1 December, his company was ordered to camp at Pennington.[3] On December 14, Cornet Geary and seven other members of the 16th were sent north on a reconnaissance mission.[4]


The most detailed source for this action is a deposition attached to the application for a military pension of John Schanck, cousin of Captain John Schenck, the leader of the Patriot militia; detailed British accounts do not appear to exist. According to this account, Geary's party rode through Amwell Township toward Flemington to verify that a supply of salt beef and pork was ready for the army to pick up. The deponent had received intelligence of this movement the previous day, and when John Schenck learned of it, he set out the next morning, gathering up a few men (eight in number, according to the deponent), and set up an ambush in a wooded area about 5 miles (8.0 km) south of Flemington. When Geary's company rode by, the militia fired a volley of musket fire, killing Geary.[4] A more brief description by a non-participating British officer reporting the event indicated that Geary was alerted to the impending fire, but was unable to escape the volley. The dragoons returned fire, but were driven off by continuing militia fire.[5]


The militiamen appropriated portions of Geary's uniform, including his sword and the silver plate on his cap that had his name inscribed on it. British troops that had been sent out to meet them and take the supplies questioned the local inhabitants and searched the area, but could not find his body.[4] The militiamen had concealed it; it was buried in a shallow grave the next day.[6]

General John Burgoyne, in his capacity as colonel of the 16th, wrote to Admiral Geary:[7]

"I have seldom felt a pain so acute as that of communicating to you the news from America, which personally regards yourself. I am afraid my authority is too good. Your Son has met a Soldier's fate. Experienced in calamity, describes what it is to resign an object near the heart, and ho[w] poor our best fortitude is upon such trial I am unfit to comfort or exhort you. Time and reflection can alone relieve you: I wish therefore only add to the tears of the Corps. My private lamentations for the Son of an invaluable parent and the assurance of the respect I have bear to his memory."

Burgoyne to Admiral Francis Geary, February 26, 1777

This ambush and similar militia attacks resulted in British troops reducing the range of their scouting forays, as the danger of going further than about 4 miles (6.4 km) from Trenton was significant.[2] This was crucial when the Americans began massing boats along the Delaware River prior to Washington's Christmas Day crossing of the Delaware that culminated with the Battle of Trenton. Geary's troops were stationed only 5 miles (8.0 km) from the river and Malta Island, the staging area for the crossing.[8]


Hunterdon County traditions claim that Geary's belongings were hidden to prevent their discovery by British troops. His coat is said to have been hidden under a pile of wheat on the floor of a garret, while his boots were hidden in an oven. It is also said that Geary's red sash was unravelled and the thread was used for various ornamental purposes, his sword was melted to make teaspoons and his stiff leather hat was used by a farmer to dip oats from his feed bin for his horses.[3]

Many local residents of Hunterdon County were unaware that Geary had been buried there, and accounts persisted that the British had recovered his body. In 1891 the Hunterdon County Historical Society exhumed a body from a site suspected to contain his body. Found in the grave were a skeleton and silver buttons labeled "Q. L. D.", signifying the Queen's Light Dragoons. His family placed a grave marker on the site in 1907.[9] The St. Nicholas Church in Great Bookham, Surrey, contains a bas-relief depicting Cornet Francis Geary and the incident.[10]


  1. ^ For a detailed account of the background, see e.g. Fischer, pp. 1–200
  2. ^ a b Fischer, pp. 192–193
  3. ^ a b Riddle
  4. ^ a b c Citation by Riddle: Anon., A History of East Amwell, 1700–1800 (Bradford Press, Flemington, NJ, 1976) Pension record of John Schanck, R9251, p. 122.
  5. ^ Hinde, p. 537
  6. ^ Snell, p. 48
  7. ^ Citation by Riddle: Gen. John Burgoyne to Adm. Geary, February 26, 1777. Elias Vosseler Papers, Hunterdon County Historical Society, Folder #315. Copied from the original by Sir William Nevill Geary, Bt., Oxon Heath, Tonbridge, England.
  8. ^ Fischer, p. 216
  9. ^ Kugler, pp. 121–122
  10. ^ Nairn, p. 267 has a photograph


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Francis Geary (British Army officer) — Cornet Francis Geary (1752, Great Bookham, Surrey ndash;December 14, 1776, Hunterdon County, New Jersey) was a British military officer killed during the American Revolutionary War.Eldest son and heir of Admiral Sir Francis Geary and Mary… …   Wikipedia

  • Sir Francis Geary, 1st Baronet — Infobox Military Person name=Francis Geary, 1st Baronet lived=1709 ndash; 7 February 1796 caption= placeofbirth = Cardiganshire placeofdeath = nickname= residence = United Kingdom nationality = British allegiance=United Kingdom of Great Britain… …   Wikipedia

  • John Schenck — (sometimes written Schanck ) (1750 1823) was a captain in the New Jersey Militia during the American Revolutionary War.BiographySchenck was born in Amwell Twp., Hunterdon County, New Jersey on May 26, 1750, the son of Gerret Roelofse Schenck(1719 …   Wikipedia

  • 1776 aux États-Unis — Éphémérides Chronologie des États Unis : 1773 1774 1775 1776  1777 1778 1779 Décennies aux États Unis : 1740 1750 1760  1770  1780 1790 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • East Amwell Township, New Jersey — Infobox Settlement official name = East Amwell Township, New Jersey settlement type = Township nickname = motto = imagesize = image caption = image mapsize = 250x200px map caption = Map of East Amwell Township in Hunterdon County. Inset: Location …   Wikipedia

  • Portal:New Jersey — Wikipedia portals: Culture Geography Health History Mathematics Natural sciences People Philosophy Religion Society Technology …   Wikipedia

  • Loudoun County in the American Civil War — Loudoun County in the Civil War mdash;Loudoun County, Virginia, was destined to be an area of significant military activity during the American Civil War. Located on Virginia s northern frontier, the Potomac River, Loudoun County became a… …   Wikipedia

  • Early Slavs — The early Slavs were a diverse group of tribal societies in Migration period and early medieval Europe (ca. 5th to 10th centuries) whose tribal organizations indirectly created the foundations for today’s Slavic nations (via the Slavic states of… …   Wikipedia

  • New York and New Jersey campaign — Part of the American Revolutionary War …   Wikipedia

  • Washington's crossing of the Delaware River — This article is about the historical event. For the famous painting, see Washington Crossing the Delaware. For the sonnet, see Washington Crossing the Delaware (sonnet). Washington s crossing of the Delaware River …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.