Lt. Col Edward Antill commanded the 2nd Canadian regiment for Sullivan's Staten Island Raid. Somewhere between New Blazing Star Ferry, where his regiment was in the advance and captured 35-40 loyalists of the 5th NJV, and Old Blazing Star Ferry, where three majors and over 100 men were left behind at the landing while the boats pulled away, he was taken by the enemy.
Antill was the senior officer captured during the Raid, but he did not command the rearguard at the landing. His name was not on the list of prisoners provided to General Sullivan by Brigadier General Cortlandt Skinner of the New Jersey Brigade of loyalist volunterrs, and within the Continental Line the rumer spread that he did not wish to be exchanged. Two days after losing upwards of 200 men captured on Staten Island, Sullivan went so far as to claim in a letter to Washington that Antill had deserted:
"Hanover 24th Augt 1777
I have to Inform yr Excellencey that Colo. Antill gave us the Slip Day before yesterday & went over to the Enemy—his Brother officers Say they have Long Since Suspected his Intentions from the whole Tenor of his Conduct—"
Sullivan wrote this letter a week before his official after action report to John Hancock and the Continental Congress. His charge against Antill was but the first of several provocative, not to say outrageous claims made by the General, which will be discussed in a subsequent post. To give due consideration to the case of Lieutenant Colonel Antill, it is necessary to consider his background and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his capture and subsequent confinement.
Edward Antill, Jr. was born in Piscataqua New Jersey in 1742, the son of Edward Antill and Anne Morris (daughter of Governor Lewis Morris). The family were prosperous and influential, and lived in a Georgian home that retained many of the characteristics of a Flemish / Dutch farmhouse. The Elder Edward Antill described himself as a "gentleman farmer" and noted; " From my house on the Road up Raritan landing looked like New Amsterdam."
Young Edward Antill graduated from Kings College (now Columbia University) in 1762 and was admitted to the New York Bar. Perhaps attracted by new opportunities in Canada following the termination of the French and Indian War, he moved to Quebec by 1767 where he practiced law and married a habitant, fifteen year old Charlotte Riverin. When General Montgomery and Benedict Arnold convered on Quebec City in December, 1775, Antill declined to defend the city and joined Montgomery as an engineer and gentleman volunteer. He was with Montgomery and Aaron Burr during the failed assault on the City and was subsequently dispatched first to General Schuyler and then to brief Congress, which commissioned him as Lt. Col. of Hazen's 2nd Canadian regiment then recruiting in Canada.
He participated in the withdrawal from Canada in 1776, and was later occupied with recruiting duties in the Middle States as Congress authorized raising the 2nd Canadian to full strength with two battalions and 4 majors on the French regimental model. Col. Mosen Hazen was still engaged with recruiting efforts in the North when the 2nd was assigned to DeBorre's Brigade, and so Lt. Col. Antil was in command when it participated in Sullivan's Staten Island Raid.
His loyalty was suspect, in part, because other close members of his family had remained loyal. His brother, in fact, held a commission in the 2nd Battalion of NJV. John Antill, also trained as a lawyer, was considered "an obnoxious Tory" and actually took refuge on a British Warship in New York Harbor in March of 1776 along with the Royal Governor Tryon. With his brother-in-law, Lt. Colonel John Morris, he raised the 2nd Battalion NJV and was commissioned its 1st Major. Although the 2nd Battalion was dispersed to serve British artillery field pieces and did not fight as a unit on Staten Island, many of its offers were still there, including Major John Antill.
His disappearance in the confused withdrawal from Staten Island remains a mystery today. Clearly, as ranking officer in the 2nd Canadian, his place would have been with his regiment, perhaps bringing up the rear, as with withdrew toward Richmond and then Old Blazing Star Ferry. Yet it was Sullivan who personally ordered on of his detached companies under Captain Benjamin Chambers to form the rear guard for this movement, and there is no mention of his actions or whereabouts in any of the letters or accounts of the battle. Although his motives for saying so are suspect, Sullivan's quip that "Antill gave us the slip" is not wide of the mark.
Whether he was taken on the road, or on business of his own, Antill's royalist captors considered him an rebel. Clinton's Deputy Adjutant General Lt. Colonel Stephen Kemple wrote in his journal;
"A few deserters, come in to us, say the Detachment that landed on Staten Island were the flower of their (the Rebel Troops), my school mate (Antill) among the Prisoners."
Secondary sources claim that Edward Antill was placed on a prison hulk in New York Harbor, and credit his brother Maj. John Antill with subsequently getting him released on parole to Long Island where other captured officers were detained and where he remained until exchanged in November, 1780.
His wife Charlotte wrote a letter in her native French to Congress in support of his patriotism;
I have the honor of addressing myself to your Excellency to pray you to grant permission to me and my children to go to my husband now a prisoner of war at New York. I flatter myself that the zeal with which he hath always served the United States of America and the sacrifices which he & I have made in their cause ought to scatter all suspicion injurious to his honor, and that his Fidelity will merit for me this Favor from your Excellency & the honorable Congress.
I am with respect
Your very humble servant
At the end of his captivity, Lt. Col. Antill returned to the 2nd Canadian, and served at Yorktown before being released as a supernumery officer in 1782. He later joined the NY Society of the Cincinnati and returned to Canada, dying at St. Johns in 1789. His brother Maj. John Antill was briefly cashiered in 1789 for making false returns, but later reinstated and resettled in the Canadian Maritimes after the war, having lost his estates in New York and New Jersey.
As for Sullivan's letter accusing Lt. Colonel Antill of desertion, the rest of his message to Washington had repercussions for a whole class of people. We will examine those charges in a subsequent post in this series.