Out on Frequent Alarms
The Revolutionary War Service of
Somerset County New Jersey Militia
John Blew was born around 1754 in Somerset County, New Jersey. His parents were John and Maria Blaw. He died in what would become Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania around 1810. His wife’s name was Jerusha, but her maiden name and birth year are unknown. She died sometime after 1829.
John Blew was about 22 years old when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Charles H. Engle wrote in his application to the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution in 1940, “According to family tradition, John Blew fought in the Revolutionary War with several brothers.” He had at least two brothers, Michael and Cornelius, who served with him in Somerset Militia as did many cousins.
This study is an attempt to list and examine the information pertaining to the service of John Blew during the Revolutionary War. The provable facts of his activities during this time are scant at best. All that is known for certain is that he was a private in the Somerset County Militia of New Jersey. The length of his service, which company he served in, and the campaigns that he took part in are unknown.
The title of this study, “Out on Frequent Alarms,” comes from the pension application of John Blew’s 1st cousin, Michael Blue, also of the Somerset Militia. He used the phrase to describe his experiences during the war.
The proof of John Blew’s service comes from the New Jersey Office of the Adjutant General:
STATE OF NEW JERSEY OFFICE OF THE ADJUTANT GENERAL
"It is certified: That the records of this office show that John Blew received Certificate No. 1349, dated May 10, 1784. Signed by William Verbryck for (pound sign) 1:8:4, depreciation of his continental pay in the Somerset County Militia during the Revolutionary War." - signed, Adjutant General.
This is the only known official document proving the service of John Blew. In the 1940’s, Charles H. Engle wrote the National Archives, but they had no record of him. Requests for information to the New Jersey Archives returned only this Certificate of Depreciation for his pay in regards to his Revolutionary service.
A Depreciation Certificate was a sort of promissory note which was redeemable at a later time, when it was hoped the state would then have the money available to pay it. The soldiers were to be paid in depreciated paper money. Commissioners were appointed to "adjust, settle, and determine the depreciation of the established pay" of officers and privates serving from New Jersey. The state treasury was to pay a quarter of the amount due by March 1, 1781 and issue a note for the remaining three quarters, which was to be paid in January 1784.
William Verbryck was the commissioner and paymaster of the Somerset and Hunterdon County State troops. During the War, he was an officer in the Somerset Militia.
Another proof of John Blew’s service can be found in Stryker’s “Jersey Men in the Revolutionary War", which lists John Blew as a militiaman. However, the only detail it gives about his service is the single word, “Somerset.”
John Blew's Certificate of Depreciation
The two certificates above were gathered in 1926 and in 1939 as part of the research of Charles H. Engle. The earlier one gives John Blew’s rank as private. Family “tradition has seven brothers fighting in the Revolutionary Army. John and Michael were the names of two of them.” Charles H. Engle wrote circa 1939 in a paper titled, “Descendants of John Blue.” The specific number of seven is incorrect, but Stryker’s lists many Blew’s from this area who fought in the War.
The next step in this study is to show John Blew’s residence in this part of New Jersey during the Revolutionary War. It can be verified with the following documentation:
His residence can be established by his parents and grandparents who owned land in Blawenburg, Montgomery Township, Somerset County. With the death of his father in 1778, he inherited a part of the family plantation, as can be seen in an abstract of his fathers’ will.
Calendar of New Jersey Wills, Administrations, etc. Volume V. 1771-1780. Page 48
John Blaw’s Will 1778
“to my son Michael and John, all the middle part of my plantation…”
A bit of additional information contained in the will is the inheritance of specific items by the subject of this study:
“I give and bequeath to my son John my desk and my big gun and the Sorrel mare and a Bed and furniture belonging to the said bed…”
Signature of John Blaw from his will, 1777
Copied c. 1950 by Charles H. Engle at Trenton, New Jersey
On the 1939 Certificate of Depreciation, Charles H. Engle indicated in writing that John Blew resided in Franklin Township, which would place him east of the Millstone River. The origin of this idea is unknown. His father’s plantation, of which he inherited a part of, was on the west side.
John Blew’s residence in New Jersey continued until 1796, when he and his family moved to Pennsylvania. The following record shows him to be a member of the Hopewell Baptist Church, beginning in 1788.
Records of Baptist Church at Hopewell, West Jersey Hunterdon Co.
October 12, 1788 - John Blue received as a member November 4, 1788 - Jerusha Blue baptized April 16, 1796 - John Blue and Jerusha, his wife, dismissed to any church.
Although many colonists in New Jersey remained loyal to England, there is also evidence that from a very early date, patriotism ran high around the Blew farmland. On a Sunday morning in April of 1775, after news of the fighting at Lexington and Concord reached them, a local man, Joab Houghton, stood in front of the Hopewell Baptist Church and announced,
“Men of New Jersey, the Redcoats are murdering our brethren in New England! Who follows me to Boston?!”
Heroes of “76,” Marching to the Fight
Currier and Ives
Memorial to Joab Houghton with the Hopewell Baptist Church in the background July 7, 2020
There is no known record of John Blew’s actual war service which is not that unusual. William Kidder, who wrote a history of the neighboring Hunterdon County Militia, stated that there is a “lack of official records relating to the New Jersey militia.” Also, there is no pension application on file, which usually supplies important details, such as the names of commanders and battles that the soldier was involved in.
There is, however, a family tradition that John Blew participated in the crossing of the Delaware on December 25-26, 1776. Charles H. Engle wrote of this possibility several times. The earliest was around 1939 in a paper entitled, “Descendants of John Blue,” when he stated, “I have heard that John Blew crossed over the Delaware River with General Washington.” In 1944, in a speech to the Schuylkill County Historical Society he said, “I have heard that he crossed the Delaware…under Washington.”
A letter from Earl McCollum, dated January 9, 1954, written in response to receiving a copy of “A Genealogical Study of John Blew (Revolutionary War Veteran) of New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” from Charles H. Engle, goes further and makes the following claim: “What I write now is something I could not have written in any previous letters. Mrs. Gamble has written me that John Blew piloted one of the boats when Washington crossed the Delaware.” Earl McCollum’s maternal Grandparents were Levi and Mary Blew. His mother was Jerusha Ann Blew. I am unsure of who Mrs. Gamble is.
Crossing the Delaware
If John Blew was at the crossing of the Delaware, he took part in a pivotal moment of the war. Although a small number of soldiers were involved relative to modern warfare, its impact was huge. The event was a miraculous victory during the darkest days of the Revolution. It gave hope to faltering Patriots across the Colonies. A few weeks before the battle, while retreating from a seemingly invincible British Army, Thomas Paine wrote the following words: “These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; …Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; …that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
Legend has it that Paine wrote these words on the head of a drum because he had no desk. Paine published the essay on December 19th in the Pennsylvania Gazette. General Washington had the words read aloud on December 23, 1776, three days before the Battle of Trenton to inspire his troops.
The night of the crossing the weather was terrible. An icy rain drenched the soldiers. They struggled across the river and then marched on to surprise the Hessians at Trenton.
In 1881, James Snell, in his book, “History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, New Jersey,” remarked, “Some deep, all-pervading spirit of patriotism must have burned in the breasts of these men to have made them undergo the sufferings of that awful night.”
Was John Blew There?
Unfortunately, the family tradition is probably incorrect. It is very unlikely that John Blew crossed the Delaware on December the 26th. The men involved on that night were probably limited to a couple of dozen nearby Hunterdon County militiamen from the Hopewell and today's Ewing area who knew the layout of the land between the landing and Trenton. These men were selected to be Washington’s guides.
There were other New Jersey militiamen who were stationed with General Ewing opposite Trenton and were scheduled to cross the same night as Washington. This group included those from Hopewell and Ewing who were not picked to be guides. However, they weren’t able to cross at Trenton because of the tides in that part of the river, so they missed the fighting. There is no evidence or record of the Somerset Militia participating in the crossing or the battle.
Life in the Somerset County Militia
In the absence of any concrete record of John Blew in Revolutionary War, we are left with only guesses and family stories.
One thing that we can be sure of is that, whether or not he participated in them, he lived near some of the biggest events of the War. The two Battles of Trenton, the Battles of Monmouth and Princeton, and the Battle of Millstone were all relatively near him. Somerset County has been called the “Crossroads of the Revolution” for this reason. Lynda Toth, in the Autumn 2008 issue of the Chalice, wrote that George Washington probably passed within three to four miles of the Blaw farm on the way to Trenton. William H. Blue wrote in the Summer 2010 issue, that three days after the Battle Monmouth, Washington and his army marched even closer on their way to Millstone along the Great Road. Later, the General stayed at Rockingham in Franklin Township, from August 23, 1783 to November 10, 1783 to await the end of the war, perhaps a mere five miles or so from the Blaw Farm.
In 1912, the Somerset County Historical Quarterly, stated, “There was little chance for monotony for the boys and young men of Somerset County during the period of the Revolution. On the main lines of travel across the state, both armies passed repeatedly along the roads of this County. Besides this, when there were no larger movements, there was always the chance of a raid through the countryside by small parties of British or Hessian troops.
One writer asserts that the average term of service in the Continental army was three months. Be this as it may, it is a fact that many men divided their time between fighting and farming, going to the front for a short period and then returning home to work.” This can be seen in the pension application of Isaac Blue, second cousin of John Blew. Isaac Blue was the eleventh child of Frederick Blaw (died 1793), who was the brother of Michael (1704-1786), John Blew’s grandfather. It states:
“He belonged to a company of Minutemen in Somerset County, New Jersey in which he served on short tours from 1776 to the close of the war, under Captains Polhemus, John Bayard, Joseph Babcock, John “Carrol,” Moore, Duryee, James Wheeler, and others not recalled; Colonels Hunt, Van Dyke, Merrick and Frelinghuysen. He took part in the Battles of Princeton and Monmouth; part of the time was stationed in Pennsylvania. His service amounted to more than 2 years 5 months.”
Isaac Blue's record covers many distinct terms of service, scattered over seven years of the war. If it had survived, this is likely what John Blew’s service record would have looked like.
I believe that most family stories have at least a grain of truth to them. Although there is no link to be found in the historical record, I still want to imagine our ancestor did in fact pilot one of those boats across the Delaware. Or maybe he was awakened by the march of Washington’s army near his home and with only a minutes’ notice, agreed to help guide them through the dark farmland that he was so familiar with.
Militia records were haphazardly kept during the war. They were held by company commanders and most of them got lost or destroyed after the war. So with that in mind, although history only records the neighboring Hunterdon County Militia being involved in the crossing, perhaps a few Blew’s were there as well.
In a letter to Oscar Blew dated March 15, 1939, Charles H. Engle said, “Genealogy is like a jig-saw puzzle, you put a piece together here and there until you begin to get the picture.” Perhaps one of those puzzle pieces can be found in the pension application of Michael Blue, John’s first cousin. Michael was born to on November 27, 1749. He married Phoebe Voorhees and after the war moved to what was then Columbia County, Pennsylvania. He died there in 1833.
According to his pension application, dated 1832, he stated that he enlisted in the Somerset County Militia on September 1, 1776. He served with the New Jersey Troops at different times under Captain William Verbryck. His rank was a private. During his seven months and 29 days of service, he was “out on frequent alarms,” and one of these was at the Battle of Trenton. Now, this most likely refers to the second Battle of Trenton, which took place on January 2, 1777. Prior to the battle, there was a second crossing of the Delaware on December 30th.
The Second Battle of Trenton
The second Battle of Trenton is also known as the Battle of the Assunpink Creek. On December 30, Washington moved his army back to Trenton to make a stand against an expected counter attack by the British in response to the first battle. He stationed the colonials on the south side of Assunpink Creek and there they repulsed three British attacks. In the end, this defeat lead to the British abandoning southern New Jersey and retreating back to New York for the rest of the winter.
So, if there is a grain of truth to this family tradition, perhaps it is that John Blew was involved in the second crossing and the second battle. Maybe that distinction has become garbled through the subsequent generations. Revolutionary War historians have written that some soldiers participated in the second Battle of Trenton on January 2 and actually remembered that Battle of Trenton as the first one. They were hardly a week a part. In a speech in the early 1950’s, Charles H. Engle said, “Family traditions are usually true, but weak on dates.” This confusion could possibly be the genesis of the John Blew story.
Another possibility could be that John Blew and some other Somerset Militia were involved, not in the first crossing or battle, but in the gathering of boats along the New Jersey border of the Delaware River after the Colonial Army fled from there to Pennsylvania. This would have taken place about two weeks before Christmas, 1776. It would have been initially a defensive move to prevent the British from using those boats to cross the river and later it provided the means for an offensive attack by Washington.
The involvement of the Somerset County Militia in this event can be seen in the Pension file of Joseph Stull. He was a member of the expedition under Colonel Abraham Ten Eyck, of the 1st Somerset Battalion in the North Branch Company of Captain Jacob Ten Eyck. From his pension file: He “served a tour of a month also under the said Captain Ten Eyck on an excursion to the Delaware river to secure the boats to prevent the British getting them and to prevent them crossing. Washington had retreated across the Delaware.”
The event can be dated by “Damages by the Americans in Glouster, Morris Burlington, Somerset and Hunterdon counties, Volume 6.” Inventory of the loss and damages Daniel McDonald sustained by Cont. Army in December 1776:
1 Durham Boat…. 20.0.0
1 Batto….. 1.5.0
“This is to certify that about the 15 day of December, 1776 Colonel Abraham Ten Eike with a party of militia came to Daniel McDonalds with orders to gather all the Water Craft that could be found and at said McDonald’s burned a Durham Boat which the subscriber values at Twenty pounds hard money and likewise took away with them a Battoe which we value worth Twenty five shillings like Money afores. Witness our hands this 11 Day of July 1782 Henry Stolt John Sherrerd.”
This information was gathered from the website, goodspeedhistories.com/who-collected-the-boats, in the comments section. It indicates that members of the Somerset Militia were involved with the gathering of the boats that were later used in the crossings. Perhaps John Blew piloted a boat at this time and this is what Earl McCollum is actually referencing in his 1954 letter.
One last thought concerning the possible provenance of the family tradition discussed in this study. Charles H. Engle, my grandfather, began researching his relationship to John Blew in the later part of the 1920’s.His grandfather, Charles Abraham Engle, died in 1922. He was named after his uncle, Charles Blew (1827-1909). His mother was Rosetta Jerusha Blew, who died in 1902. She was born in 1814.Her father was James Blew, the son of this subject. This story was most likely told orally from John Blew to his son, James, who then repeated it to his children, Jerusha and Charles. They then passed it on to Charles Abraham Engle, who then told his grandson, Charles H. Engle. Charles H. Engle then wrote the legend down in the late 1930’s.
The first page of the letter from Earl McCollum, dated January 9, 1954, claiming that John Blew was a pilot for the crossing of the Delaware.
Blue, William H. Historic Montgomery Township, Somerset Co., NJ. The Chalice. Summer 2010.
Calendar of New Jersey Wills, Administrations, etc. Volume V. 1771-1780. Page 48.
Engle, Charles H. Descendants of John Blue. c.1939.
Engle, Charles H. A Genealogical Study of John Blew (Revolutionary War Veteran) of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 1952.
Engle, Charles H. Letter to Oscar Blew. March 15, 1939.
Engle, Charles H. Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution Application for Membership. November 14, 1940.
Engle, Charles H. A Search for Some Ancestors, Speech to the Schuylkill Historical Society. January 1944.
Bertland, Dennis. goodspeedhistories.com/who-collected-the-boats. Comment. June 27, 2020.
Kidder, William. Paucity of Militia Records Leads to Identity Crisis.
davidlibraryar.blogspot.com/2011/11/patrons-perspective-tracing-new-jersey. June 20, 2020.
McCollum, Earl. Letter to Charles H. Engle. January 9, 1954.
National Archives. Pension Application. Isaac Blue. Researched June 13, 1941.
National Archives. Pension Application. Michael Blue. Researched June 13, 1941.
Nj.gov/state/archives/guides/ststr004.pdf. June 15, 2020.
Snell, James P.(Compiled). History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, New Jersey. 1881.
Stryker, William S. The Battles of Trenton and Princeton. 1898.
Stryker, William S. Official Register of the Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Revolutionary War. 1872.
Lynda Toth. George Washington, Blawenburg, and Revolutionary Musings with John Blue Ancestors. The Chalice. Autumn 2008.
Van Doran Honeyman, A. (Ed.) Calendar of New Jersey Wills, Administrations, etc. Volume V. 1771-1780.
Van Doran Honeyman, A. (Ed.) Somerset County Historical Quarterly Vol. 1. Page 231-232. 1912.