Long-time Library Patron Larry Kidder has spent many years researching the life and times of the men who served in the Hunterdon County, New Jersey, Militia in our microfilm records. Over the course of his work, he has run into many challenges stemming from the nature of the source material, which was not always kept as exactly and regularly by contemporaries as historians could desire. In this installment, he takes on the particularly tricky question of tracing men who served in the militia as well as in the Continental service. Unlike the modern United States Army, the Continental Army was initially recruited for one-year enlistments from 1775 through 1777. One of the major source pools for recruits were the various county militias-- in fact, they were so important that in the second half of the war, American officials would actively draft men from the militia to serve in Continental regiments in order to meet Congressional quotas. These practices created an intricate spiderweb of documents, as well as gaps in the record, that complicate any attempt to trace a given individual's service. Thankfully, Larry provides some key insights that should smooth the path of other researchers.
The lack of official records relating to the New Jersey militia can cause identity problems. Since many men served at different times in both the Continental forces and the militia, it is difficult to know what the actual service of any one individual was. Was the man said to have been in the militia also the same man who served for a time in the Continentals? Even standard and highly regarded sources can lead one astray. Here is one case study – Captain John Mott.
On page 85 of Stryker’s Official register of the officers and men of New Jersey in the Revolutionary War we find John Mott as a first lieutenant in the Third New Jersey Battalion of the First Establishment commissioned February 9, 1776 and then a captain in the Third New Jersey Battalion of the Second Establishment commissioned November 29, 1776. He served until retiring on September 26, 1780. Then, Stryker makes the brief comment that he was also a captain in the militia. Stryker then expands on this in his classic study of The Battles of Trenton and Princeton where he notes that at the time of the Battle of Trenton among the men of Hopewell Township, New Jersey who did good service was Captain John Mott, formerly of the First Hunterdon County Militia but then recruiting for the New Jersey Continental Line. (page 138) He later mentions that a Hessian patrol got as far as the house of Captain John Mott of the New Jersey Continental line now located on the grounds of the “New Jersey Hospital for the Insane. (page 146) This was apparently the source used by the editors of the University of Virginia edition of the Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, Vol 7, p428 to identify a Captain John Mott mentioned by New Jersey militia General Philemon Dickinson in a letter to Washington on December 24, 1776. This Captain Mott, Dickinson says, “now waits upon my Lord Sterling to give him some Information about certain roads, agreeable to his Lordships requests – Capt. Mott is a man that may be relied upon in every respect.” The note giving Mott’s identity first says he was a captain in the Hunterdon County Militia and had previously served in the Third New Jersey Continental Regiment and at the time mentioned in Dickinson’s letter was “recruiting for his company” for the Continentals. The description closes with the statement that “Mott remained a captain in the 3d New Jersey Regiment until he retired from the army in September 1780.” So, we have a picture of this newly commissioned Continental captain, and former militiaman, hanging around the militia forces of Gen. Dickinson the day before the crossing to Trenton trying to recruit militiamen worried about their families in British occupied Trenton and vicinity. Good luck. However, this picture is wrong and as we shall see the Continental Captain Mott was not the man mentioned by Dickinson.
There is a clear paper trail for the Continental service of a Captain John Mott as described by Stryker. But, how does the idea that Captain Mott was also in the First Hunterdon Militia Regiment fit in? It would appear that he must have only served for a few months before joining the Continentals in February 1776. While not stated specifically, he might have resumed his duties in the militia after his retirement from the Continentals in 1780. But, his militia service is pretty vague.
However, even the information positively stated is not without flaw. Stryker includes his Captain Mott with men from Hopewell Township who helped with the Battle of Trenton. However, John Mott lived in Trenton Township, what is now Ewing Township, where the state hospital mentioned is located. His home was not far from the home of Gen. Dickinson who knew him personally and could attest to his trustworthiness. As we shall see, though, Captain Mott actually worked for Dickinson and the Captain John Mott he referred to in his letter was not the Captain John Mott who served in the New Jersey Continental Line. Rather, he was the Captain John Mott who served throughout the war in the First Hunterdon Militia Regiment. How do we know this?
At the New Jersey State Archives is manuscript document #700 in the collection of Revolutionary War documents. This document is a muster roll of Captain John Mott’s Company of the First Hunterdon Militia made in October 1777. This is the same time that Stryker and the Papers of George Washington have Captain Mott as an officer in the Third New Jersey Regiment of the Continental Line. This document is available on microfilm at the David Library. If we then turn to pension files of First Hunterdon militiamen, also at the David Library, we find men who swear they were in Captain John Mott’s Company of the First Hunterdon as early as June 1776. Private John Burroughs of Trenton swore in his pension application (W841) that he went out first under Captain John Mott and went to Amboy where they heard the Declaration of Independence read. At this time the Continental John Mott was a lieutenant in the Third New Jersey.
As for the time of the Battle of Trenton, private Isaac Reed of the First Hunterdon attests in his pension file (W3868) that he belonged to Captain Mott’s Company and that he, “Marched from Trenton across the Delaware into Pennsylvania where we remained along the river until the capture of the Hessians at Trenton in December of that year. Capt Mott’s company was kept on guard on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware at the battle of Princeton.” Private Joseph Reed gave a deposition for Andrew Reeder of Trenton saying in part, “I recollect being with Captain Mott’s company upon one occasion at Howell’s Ferry on the Delaware just after the Battle of Trenton, the boats were all collected at Howell’s Ferry to be used by General Washington’s army if a retreat was necessary.” (pension file W4059)
Joseph Reed also remembered that in 1778 at the Battle of Monmouth, “owing to the sickness of Captain Mott, Lt Andrew Reeder commanded the company.” At least half a dozen other pension files indicate that John Mott was captain of a company of the First Hunterdon at the time of the Battle of Monmouth. (The most definite statements are in file W543 Joshua Furman of Trenton, W3868 Isaac Reed of Trenton, S4838 Henry Simmons of Hopewell, and W6287 Benjamin Titus of Hopewell)
I could go on with citations from pension files, but from the ones already mentioned it is clear that Captain John Mott of the First Hunterdon County Militia Regiment could not be the John Mott who served as a lieutenant and captain in the Third New Jersey Continental Line Regiment. Only further research could determine if that John Mott ever served in a militia regiment before or after his continental service, but if he did it was not in the First Hunterdon as indicated by Stryker and works that use him as a source.
This all may seem like nit picking, but I chose to write about it to demonstrate how the lack of official records on New Jersey militiamen leads to misunderstandings about who actually served and in what capacity. My research into the First Hunterdon Militia Regiment is convincing me that there is much more to the story of these militiamen in the Revolution than the usual comments about them not turning out and not exhibiting much dedication to the cause. The story of Captain John Mott of the little known militia is equally interesting as the story of Captain John Mott of the renowned New Jersey Continental Line. The two men should not be combined and the Continental service of one be what is remembered with only the notation, erroneous apparently, that he also served in the militia.