Col. John Haslet
Minister, Doctor And Soldier, Haslet Led 'Fighting Delawares' Through
By Bethanne Kelly Patrick
Studying for the ministry may not seem like proper preparation for leading
men into battle. But it was a Presbyterian minister, Col. John Haslet, who
ably commanded Delaware's only regiment of the Revolutionary War.
Haslet was born in Londonderry, Ireland, where he studied for the
ministry. Around 1757, Haslet emigrated to Delaware and took up residence
in Dover, where he practiced medicine in addition to his ministry. A
staunch Whig and a fine leader, he was chosen to head the Delaware
Regiment created by Congress on Dec. 9, 1775.
Delaware had participated in the colonial wars and possessed a
well-organized militia, including the likes of Haslet, who had commanded
the Kent County Militia. The Delaware Regiment was not only available and
ready to march; they were also, according to some sources, the
best-equipped and best-uniformed unit in the army of 1776. In their
distinctive "short blue jackets, lined and faced with red" and "small
round caps of black jacked leather" the "Fighting Delawares" were ready to
face their enemy.
This they did, early and bravely. Haslet brought his regiment to New York
State for the Battle of Brooklyn, also known as the Battle of Long Island,
in the summer of 1776. After the early scuffles for freedom, the Patriots
had organized and declared their independence, and Gen. George Washington
had set up camp in Manhattan. The Battle of Brooklyn was the first real
theater of war in the American Revolution, and troops there experienced
all the drama of combat. While Washington had 20,000 soldiers at his
disposal and had built reinforcements such as the famous Battery of
cannons, the British flotilla that arrived in New York Harbor in late July
was much larger.
When the British, under Gen. Howe, began to move, there was little that
could be done. However, near Brooklyn's western shore, Haslet's Delawares
and their neighbors, Col. Smallwood's Marylanders, were fighting so
valiantly that they amazed the redcoats. Even when surrounded by British
grenadiers and the Scottish Black Watch, these two Mid-Atlantic regiments
rallied until Gen. William Alexander ordered a withdrawal.
Those who escaped fled under grapeshot and heavy musket fire, through a
swamp and a creek to safety. While 300 of the 400 Marylanders died, only
31 of Haslet's troops perished. Haslet continued to lead his fine unit,
including just 100 men at the Battle of Trenton, until their enlistments
expired. After Haslet himself was killed in the Battle of Princeton on
Jan. 3, 1777, his remaining officers were so demoralized that they never
again raised their regimental colors.
Thanks to Paul Smallwood,
President, Ulster-Scots Society of America,
for sending this in.