Deal Marks the Spot:
General George Washington’s 1777 War Map
By Jim Foley
In 1774, the Continental Army Geographer Robert Erskine prepared a map of portions of New York and New Jersey for General George Washington. Based upon actual surveys made by Lord Stirling, Erskine’s map was used by General Washington as the Revolution traversed the Garden State. The original map, which includes numerous notations made by Washington himself, has been preserved and is in the possession of the J.P. Morgan Library in New York City.
Of particular interest to the author, in relation to the pivotal Battle of Monmouth, is the line Washington drew on the map from Freehold to Deal. The fact that Washington should note the location of Deal should come as no surprise, as many Tories were then living in the general vicinity. At the time, Deal Lake was an open inlet to the sea and the first “break” in land south of British controlled Sandy Hook. As ships were capable of entering the “harbour” at Deal, the lake provided a safe haven for those not supportive of the colony’s fight for independence.
Edwin Salter and Richard Ellis wrote in their respective 19th century histories of Monmouth County tales of Tories at Deal. They recorded the legends that had been handed down from generation to generation, about those living around Deal Lake and who carried on a regular and profitable trade with the British. They wrote that more than one ship sailed into Deal Lake, where supplies were safely transferred and intelligence covertly collected. The recovery of many Revolutionary artifacts supports the accounts recorded in the various histories previously written. Also, as recently as 1998, a six-pound cannon ball was found in “Crow-foot Gully” on the grounds of the Deal Golf and Country Club. The Monmouth County Historical Society has examined the cannonball and determined that it is consistent with those used during the Revolutionary War.
The fact that Revolutionary battles occurred within the boundaries of Monmouth is well established. However, none of the organizations contacted by the author knew why General Washington noted the location of Deal on his 1777 war map. Was it because the British were trading with the local farmers of Deal, who told one military captain, “We much prefer the British, and by no means thank you for your protection!” Or, was there another reason why Washington felt the need to keep an eye on Deal and the movements surrounding the area. Not only do the hundreds of books written about the father of our country and the war not answer the question at hand, they don’t even ask it.
In addition to Deal being a hot bed of Tory activity during the Revolution, a large portion of land surrounding Deal Lake, then known as Great Pone, was owned by members of the Drummond family. This is neither the time nor the place to give a detailed history of the Drummonds, who date back to at least the 11th century, and were related to several kings of England. Suffice it to say, they were prominent in Scotland and were among the twenty-four Proprietors of East Jersey beginning in 1682.
Thomas, Lord Drummond, born in Scotland in July 1742, came to America in 1768, to look after the real estate in East Jersey, belonging to John Drummond, the Earl of Melfort and James Drummond, the Earl of Perth (for whom Perth Amboy is named).
By 1773, Lord Thomas Drummond had become a well-known and influential New Yorker. He was elected President of the New York Saint Andrew Society and was personally acquainted with several members of the Continental Congress. As tensions grew between England and her American colony, Lord Drummond attempted to broker a compromise between the two sides. Drummond went to England and met with Lord North and Lord Dartmouth to discuss the mounting hostilities in America. The Lords agreed it would be preferred to settle the differences peacefully and avoid going to war. Drummond returned to the colony with the “unofficial” directive that if the Americans were to make an “offer” so that England would be able to “retain her country’s honor” (aka “save face”), the issues at dispute would be agreeable resolved.
Lord Drummond explained to several members of the Continental Congress the nature of his discussions in England. All were excited about the real prospects of preventing war and resolving the differences peacefully. The handful of members of the Congress who were aware of Drummond’s meetings, suggested that he return to England and make an offer of compromise. Lord Drummond was agreeable, however stated that it would be more beneficial if a delegation of Congress were to sail to England and make the “offer”.
Consequently, a letter was drafted and forwarded to General Robertson to obtain traveling passes. Unfortunately, General Washington intercepted Drummond’s correspondence and becoming incensed at its contents, forwarded it to the President of the Congress.
General Washington knew of Drummond, but did not believe the Lord actually held any official commissions of the Motherland nor was authorized to negotiate a peace treaty for either party. John Adams, a member of Congress, believed Washington should not have forwarded the letter to the Congress, and that he (Washington) was perhaps stirring up trouble, which eventually would lead to war, not peace. Mr. Adams also noted that the reading of Drummond’s letter was the first time members of the Continental Congress discussed “independence” among themselves.
Consequently, Drummond’s Peace Plan failed and at General Washington’s insistence, Lord Drummond was arrested. Spending several years trying to clear his name and regain his place of honor, General Washington refused to drop the charges against Drummond.
Washington wrote from his headquarters at Morristown, N.J. on July 4, 1777 – “that he had thoroughly investigated the subject at the time; that he had no disposition to injure Lord Drummond; that the impression left on his mind was deep and decided and that no circumstances had since come to light, which tended to alter his opinions.”
It should come as no surprise why General Washington noted the location of Deal on his 1777 war map. Deal was home to the 500-acre homestead of the Drummonds and several skirmishes occurred in the area. Unfortunately, Lord Drummond died before his name was restored to its rightful place of honor. Today, only a street sign in Deal reminds us of the noble Drummond family that almost prevented the American Revolutionary War.
Copyright © 1996 by Jim Foley
Jim Foley is the Historian for the Borough of Deal, NJ, a trustee and past president of the Deal Historical Society, a member of the Board of Trustees for the Long Branch Historical Museum Association, and a member of the Monmouth County Historical Association.
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