William De Hart served as an officer in the New Jersey Continental Line from the end of 1775 to the last months of 1781. He also had two brothers who were officers in the patriot forces, one of whom was killed in action, and two sisters who married revolutionary officers - Margaretta, wife of Lt. Jesse Baldwin of the 1st New Jersey, and Amelia, wife of Artillery Captain Alex Thompson of N.Y.
This much is fairly certain. However, the services record of William De Hart and most especially the brother who died are not as straightforward as they appear at first blush. The circumstances regarding the death of the De Hart brother is well and truly confused in the usual secondary source material, as Heitman's Historical Register of the Officers of the Continental Army is particularly misleading and even inconsistent with the evidence of service contained in surviving muster roles. Moreover, Heitman manages to make separate war records for two De Harts out of the same person, but more on that below.
The De Harts (alternatively recorded as D'Hart or DeHart) were from a well established family that settled both in New York and in Elizabethtown New Jersey. The three DeHart brothers who served in the Revolution were all born in Elizabethtown, the sons of Dr. Matthias DeHart (1723-1766) and Katherine Kingsland. The eldest was William, who at the outset of the Revolution had removed to Morristown and started a law practice there. We will look more closely into conflicting accounts of his service record in another post.
Cyrus De Hart (b. about July 2, 1758) enlisted in the 1st New Jersey in its 1st establishment as ensign of its seventh company. During the war he was promoted to lieutenant, paymaster, Captain-Lieutenant and finally Captain, with a brief transfer to the 2nd New Jersey. He was retained in the final establishment of the New Jersey Line.
Finally there was Jacob Mauritz (or Maurier or Mausier or Maurice) De Hart, who went by his middle name that was often recorded as Maurice. He was the youngest, born about June 20, 1762. Heitman lists him as Major and A.D.C. to General Wayne at Fort Lee in November 1776, but even a cursory examination of this claim raises serious questions of credulity. There are very few 14 year old soldiers, even in that time of young enlistments, who would have been appointed to the rank of major. More likely - if he was even in service this early in the war - he was major of brigade, and therefore entitled to be called major. But whose brigade major was he, and why was a boy from eastern New Jersey serving with the Pennsylvania Continentals?
In 1850, the Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society contain a letter that sheds some light on the De Hart family and particularly young Maurice but also adds to the confusion. This source states that Maurice De Hart was a Lieutenant and A.D.C.first to General Irvine and then a volunteer A.D.C. to Anthony Wayne, but states that he was killed in the storming of Stony Point rather than at the evacuation of Fort Lee three years previous as Heitman would have it.
Lets consider both possibilities: In the Spring of 1776, Colonel William Irvine commanded the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment which marched to Canada to reinforce the American forces besieging Quebec. He was captured along with many under his command at Trois Rivier in June of that year. Those whose were later paroled by the British were sent home to await their formal exchange, which for Irvine did not occur until the following year. It is unclear at the time of this writing whether young Maurice DeHart, then not yet 14 years old, might have accompanied Irvine into captivity, nor yet how he could have secured a Lieutenancy at this age, but one can imagine him enlisting as the Pennsylvanians marched north through New Jersey in the Spring of 1776. His brothers were already heading in that direction with the 1st New Jersey. Perhaps they disapproved of his enlistment. His father having died ten years before, there was no male relative in the household to stop him from doing so.
If he had been paroled but not yet exchanged, he could not have rejoined the army with honor. The 6th Pennsylvania was on garrison duty at Ticonderoga and not with Washington or Wayne when Fort Lee was evacuated, so if he were able to serve but happened to be apart from his regiment, he could have been a volunteer A.D.C. with Wayne. Still, this seems quite a stretch.
How about the other possibility, that he was killed storming the works at Stony Point with Anthony Wayne? There would seem to be compelling contemporary evidence that in fact he died in 1780, not during the famed Stony Point attack in 1779 but in an assault by Wayne's Pennsylvania Division and Moylan's Dragoons on a heavily fortified Tory blockhouse on the edge of the Palisades near Bull's Ferry.
"Yesterday sennight died of the wounds, he received in the attack on the block-house, near the English Neighborhood, Lieut. Jacob M. DeHart, of the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment (a brother of Col. De Hart.) This youth fell at the age of eighteen, bravely, and was universally lamented - Every military honour was paid his remains by his affectionate brother officers."
Now the pieces begin to come together. William Irvine commanded one of the Brigades in Wayne's division during this fight on July 21, 1780, which cost the Continentals the lives of three officers and fifteen rank and file along with 46 wounded and failed to breach the defenses of the blockhouse. And who is Lieutenant Jacob M. DeHart but the very same Maurice DeHart recorded by Heitman. But then, Heitman has Jacob DeHart listed as well!
De Hart, Jacob (Pa.) Ensign, 2nd Pennsylvania, 2nd June, 1778; 2nd Lieutenant 16th May, 1779; Aide- de-Camp to General De Kalb; died 25th July, 1780, of wounds received at Bull's Ferry, 21st July, 1780."
Lieutenant Jacob and Major Maurice DeHart are one and the same. He was not with Colonel Irvine in Canada in 1776, but with General Irvine at the Bull's Ferry blockhouse in 1780. He was not killed at Fort Lee in 1776, but this is understandable because Fort Lee is located not far from Bull's Ferry. He was with Anthony Wayne in the storming of the blockhouse, but not at the more famous Stony Point where Wayne used troops of the Light Division rather than his Pennsylvania continentals. As for lingering confusion in the minds of later historians about his death Fort Lee, we have this soaring elegy written by Colonel Humphreys of the Pennsylvania Line to thank with its preface:
An elegy on Lieutenant De Hart, Volunteer-aid to General Wayne, who was killed in the attack on the block-house near Fort Lee, 1780
Pennsylvania credited the estate of "Ensign"Jacob Mc DeHart in 1782 with more than 245 pounds in back pay plus interest. Perhaps his elder brother the lawyer William De Hart helped to secure this payment. Pennsylvania records indicate he may have been promoted to 1st Lieutenant as Jacob "Morris" De Hart in May 1780. That middle name was awfully confusing to spell. As for the Pennsylvania record in 1779 of a Jacob DeHart appointed Second Lieutenant of the Ship General Greene, I'd like to be able to say with certainty that it wasn't him as well. But I know better than that!