Late in January, 1776, word reach the Elizabethtown, New Jersey Committee of Safety that a British supply vessel, the "Blue Mountain Valley", had been driven near Sandy Hook by a storm and was without the protection of armed escort. Col. William Alexander "Lord Sterling", commander of the 1st New Jersey Regiment, marched for Amboy with about forty men under his command to procure a vessel to capture the prize. Learning that The British Man of War "Asia" was then offshore and preparing to come to the aid of the supply ship, The Committee of Safety - chaired by Robert Ogden (my 5th great grandfather) - determined to send about 100 Elizabethtown volunteers in three or four boats to reinforce Sterling's expedition.
A large number of my ancestors participated in this act of privateering. The list of officers and men belonging to the militia of Elizabethtown who volunteered to capture that the ship was headed by Col. Elias Dayton, (a 6th great grandfather), and also includes Aaron Ogden (a 4th great grandfather), and a pair of 6th great uncles by marriage (Lt. Col Oliver Spencer and 1st Lt. Francis Barber). It was clearly the thing to do for the young men of Elizabethtown, and all told 77 patriotic citizens and members of various militia regiments - warmed no doubt by thoughts of prize money - set out in three boats shortly after midnight on January 23rd, 1776 through the floating ice to Amboy to join up with Lord Sterling.
The various histories of Elizabeth (and they are many, for this was the first English town settled in New Jersey) celebrate this night the way communities around Boston recall the Lexington Alarm. Elizabethtown would feel the impact of the war in numerous Tory incursions from Staten Island and even more profoundly from Knyphausen's Springfield Raid in 1780, but this was the first event of significance to happen in Town since the War began and anyone associated with it assumed the hero's mantle. From Theodore Thayer's As We Were - The Story of Old Elizabethtown (1964) comes this description of the capture of the ship:
"Together they sailed for the open seas with the icy wind in their faces. Not until shortly after daybreak did they sight their prey. Silently they drew alongside the Blue Mountain Valley, fearing each moment to be greeted by a blast of gunfire. None came, however, and before the enemy was aware of it, the raiders were clambering up the side of the ship and over the rails. Fifty-year-old Lord Stirling with sword in hand was second man over the gunwales, with Aaron Ogden hard on his heels. Finding himself surprised and out-numbered, Captain John H. Dempster surrendered without firing a shot."
The "Blue Mountain Valley" was a fine prize of 300 tons. She had sailed from London on October 13, 1775: an exceptionally long crossing as she made no other port of call. The ship's manifest, dated September 30, 1775, showed 107.25 "chaldrons (sic) of coal"; 30 bundles of hoops; 100 butts of porter branded "Calvert"; 225 bags of beans; 156 sacks of potatoes (which proved to be mostly rotten); 10 casks sour-kraut; 80 live hogs (only 7 remained); and 35 empty water puncheons. There was no sign of the armed Britisher, which failed to find the Blue Mountain Valley and returned to its former station. The Elizabethtown volunteers were disappointed, feeling up to taking this ship as well, but they had a hard enough time with contrary winds and tides and even grounded for a time bringing their prize safely into port. A further reinforcement of 80 men joined them en route to guard against recapture, and several days later the ship lay at anchor of Elizabethtown Point under the command of Lord Sterling and a prize of war under the care of the Committee of Safety.
This was welcome news in Congress, which on January 29th, 1776
"Resolved, That the alertness, activity, and good conduct of Lord Sterling and the forwardness and spirit of the gentlemen and others from Elizabeth-Town, who voluntarily assisted him in taking the Ship Blue-Mountain-Valley, were laudable and exemplary; and that his Lordship be directed to secure the capture until further order of Congress; and that, in the meantime, he cause such part of the lading as would other-wise perish, to be disposed of by sale."
In March, the Provincial Congress of New Jersey, ordered the vessel and remaining cargo confiscated, sold at auction, and the proceeds distributed among the captors. A gratuity was allowed the captured seamen, and the personal property of the officers restored to them (£100 in the case of the captain), after which they were set at liberty. There was some difficulty in tracking down some of the fire-arms provided to the volunteers by the Committee of Safety for the expedition, but all in all the Blue Mountain Valley raid was felt to be a resounding success.