When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
January 20, 1781 Pompton Mutiny — revolt of New Jersey troops
On January 20, about 200-300 of the soldiers at Pompton mutinied. According to eyewitness accounts, they were also quite drunk. They set out for the state capital at Trenton, where they intended to make demands. Their march would take them through Chatham, where another army camp was located, and they hoped to recruit more mutineers from among the troops there.
General George Washington decided that this second mutiny needed to be handled decisively, or the mutinies could become a pattern which could spread throughout the Continental Army. There were to be no negotiations, and the mutiny was to be put down strongly to discourage other troops from mutiny. On January 22, he ordered Major General Robert Howe to march with about five-hundred troops from West Point to Pompton to quell the mutiny. Washington’s orders to Howe made clear the seriousness of the situation:
“You are to take the command of the detachment, which has been ordered to march from this post against the mutineers of the Jersey line. You will rendezvous the whole of your command at Ringwood or Pompton, as you may find best from circumstances. The object of your detachment is to compel the mutineers to unconditional submission; and I am to desire, that you will grant no terms while they are with arms in their hands in a state of resistance. The manner of executing this I leave to your discretion. If you succeed in compelling the revolted troops to a surrender, you will instantly execute a few of the most active and incendiary leaders.”
General Robert Howe and his troops arrived at Pompton on January 27. Three of the mutiny’s leaders were selected to be executed on the spot by a firing squad made up of other mutineers. Twelve of the most guilty mutineers were next selected to be their executioners.
Although Washington had seen it as necessary to deal decisively with the Pompton Mutiny to avoid a breakdown of the entire army, he also recognized the truth of their grievances regarding food, clothing, and pay. And so, after the suppression of the mutiny, Washington supported the recognition of their grievances. He wrote in a letter to a committee charged with addressing the grievances of the mutineers that “having punished guilt and supported authority—it now becomes proper to do justice.