When stories are told about Westchester County and the American Revolution, several major conflicts and dominant personalities receive most of the attention in narratives, books and lectures. The battles were fought in Pelham and White Plains, and attacks occurred on the Continental Army outposts at Young’s House in present-day Mount Pleasant and at the Davenport House at Pines Bridge in Yorktown. The colonial roadways, hills and woods of the county were traversed by American, British, French and German troops under the leadership of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Lafayette, Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur (comte de Rochambeau) and William Howe.
An effective war tactic that often is overlooked by history featured the quick-strike raids organized by detachments of the opposing armies and by local militias. These surprise attacks panicked residents throughout the county that, at the time, included a southern portion that was annexed at the end of the 19th century to form New York City’s Borough of the Bronx. The raids involved seizing livestock, razing buildings and capturing and often killing opponents. For the crown, a number of these incursions were led by a British colonel who became known throughout the colonies as “Bloody Ban.”
Terrorizing The Populace And Targeting Officers
The Town of Pound Ridge is located in the northeast corner of the county. A hamlet during the 1770s, the community shares a border with Connecticut. On the morning of July 2, 1779, this quite farm country awakened to the hooves, gunfire and shouts of war.
At about 11:30 p.m. during a significant rainstorm on July 1, British Colonel Banastre Tarleton ventured north from his encampment in Yonkers. His forces featured several hundred trained cavalry and infantry that included Hessian mercenaries hired from the German states. The raiders reached the Town of Bedford at about 4 a.m. This wasn’t Tarleton’s first raid in the region. His campaigns regularly terrified the countryside with hit-and-run tactics to discourage support of the patriot cause against the king. Within two weeks, he had led raids in Bedford along with Norwalk, Fairfield and New Haven in Connecticut.
Tarleton specifically targeted Pound Ridge for his latest raid. Besides terrorizing the population, Tarleton desired to capture or eliminate several military personnel—Major Ebeneezer Lockwood, Colonel Elijah Shelton and Major Benjamin Tallmadge. Lockwood lived in Pound Ridge and a price of 40 guineas ($100) had been placed on his head for his capture. Shelton maintained his headquarters in the community to supervise cavalry troops in the light dragoons, a French term that described mounted soldiers armed with muskets and trained to fight from the saddle and on foot. Tallmadge also was in Pound Ridge at this time. He oversaw the Culper spy network for General George Washington.
To avoid detection, Tarleton specifically chose to approach Pound Ridge from Bedford. However, a spy, Luther Kinnicutt, already had alerted the forces at Pound Ridge to expect an attack. As the raiders neared their objective, a lookout sent an alarm to American forces in the hamlet. After a wrong turn to the north, the British contingent headed south into the community. Within about a two-mile area, Tallmadge’s men met and fought the raiders at close range before they retreated south from the action. Shelton’s men fired and then they also retreated from the scene through the fields, rocky terrain and swamps.
Tarleton became frustrated with the chase. He halted his troops and focused on the hamlet as patriots, protected by boulders and trees, continued to fire their guns from a safe distance. Tarleton decided to inflict pain by burning houses—including the home of Major Lockwood—along with barns, the Presbyterian Church and meeting house. The British also captured documents that revealed secrets associated with the Culper spy ring.
According to reports, several deaths occurred along with numerous injuries. A number of cows were seized by Tarleton’s men as they retraced their morning route. Along the way, residents of Bedford fired at the raiders, who then burned several buildings, released the cows into the countryside and escaped to the south to reach their camp at about 10 p.m.
“Bloody Ban” Tarleton
Banastre Tarleton was about 24 years of age when he led his raid on Pound Ridge. His military actions on behalf of the British Empire earned him accolades and promotions during the war. To colonials, he became known as “Bloody Ban” for his ruthlessness and brutal suppression of enemy combatants and civilians.
At the Battle of the Waxhaws in South Carolina on May 29, 1780, Tarleton reportedly exhibited courage and energy during the fight. Americans, however, witnessed his sinister personality. The officer commissioned a flag of truce with an offer for Americans to surrender. In a quick reversal, he ordered an attack that killed 113 patriots and wounded another 150 soldiers. Following the massacre, “Tarleton’s Quarter” became a rallying cry for southern patriots.
When tracing the American Revolution either through books or visiting sites of historic significance, a student of the war often will encounter Tarleton and his raging personality. Besides the New York and Connecticut raids and his actions at Waxhaws, “Bloody Ban” captured General Charles Lee of the Continental Army in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, fought at Charleston and Cowpens in South Carolina and Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina. Tarleton then returned to the tactics he employed at Pound Ridge and other locations, championing raids to frighten the Virginia countryside during 1781. These final skirmishes, however, did not impact the outcome of the war. As “Bloody Ban” terrorized the villages and hamlets, British General Charles Cornwallis simultaneously moved his army toward destiny when he arrived in Yorktown.
Feature Photo One – Welcome to Pound Ridge. During the American Revolution, the hamlet featured farms and a population of about 700 while today the town is home to about 5,000 residents. Credit: M. Virgintino
Photo Two – This plaque was placed on the site of the Presbyterian Church and meeting house burned by Banastre Tarleton’s troops. The contemporary building on the site is home to the Pound Ridge Historical Society. Photo Credit: Mike Virgintino
Photo Three – Banestre Tarleton from a painting by Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792).