General Jedediah Huntingdon
Jedediah Huntingdon was born in Norwich, Connecticut in 1745 to General Jabez Huntingdon who was a prosperous merchant in trade with the West Indies. The family was well known socially and politically throughout the colony. Jedediah was a graduate of Harvard College in 1763. He delivered the first English oration at the Harvard commencement at his graduation. Upon graduation, he entered the business world with his father.
As the unrest grew between England and the colonies, Jedediah became a member of the Sons of Liberty and thus began his military career in 1769. He was a member of the first Norwich military company and the Connecticut Assembly made him an ensign. By 1771 he was promoted to lieutenant and three years later in 1774 was appointed captain. Later he was chosen to serve as colonel of the 20th regiment of militia. In the early spring of 1775 his regiment was ordered to Boston, and he served there until the British evacuated in 1776.
When the orders came that the American army was to proceed to New York, Huntingdon entertained Washington and Governor Trumbull of Connecticut at his home. Throughout the Revolution, Huntingdon entertained various famous personages at his home including Lafayette, Steuben, Pulaski, Larizen and Chastellux.
Huntingdon rendered his service in the New York Campaign, although the British did end up taking the city. In 1776 he became colonel of the 17th regiment of the Continental Army. During the spring of 1777, Huntingdon and Benedict Arnold were associated with the expedition to harass the British near Danbury. In May of the same year Congress appointed him Brigadier General in the Continental Army.
After the Battle of Germantown on October 4, Washington moved around the Philadelphia region. On October 11, the Continental Army was located at Towamensing, and it was there that Huntingdon joined them from Peekskill, New York. His troops were brigaded with other troops, but he retained command. The historical sequence of his service at Valley Forge is best found in the pages of General Weedon's Orderly Book of Valley Forge: (information starting two months prior to the encampment of Valley Forge)
On October 14, Huntingdon was appointed Brigadier for the day. He was responsible that day for seeing that blankets and other supplies belonging to the wounded soldiers at Reading were sent to them without delay. On October 16, the camp was moved to Worcester township, and at the time, new troops were placed under his command. On October 19th, he was again made Brigadier for the day and several General Court Marital were organized for the trial of several non-commissioned officers. Headquarters were established in Upper Dublin as of October 24th. It was here that a reluctant Washington issued the following orders yielding to the request of Anthony Wayne for a Court Martial trial regarding the Paoli Massacre (September 20, 1777): "The General Court Martial whereof General Sullivan is appointed President is to sit tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock at the President's Quarters for the trial of Brigadier General Wayne upon the charge against him — That he had timely notice of the enemy's intention to attack the troops under his command on the night of the 20th ult. And notwithstanding that intelligence neglected making a disposition until it was too late; either to annoy the enemy, or make a retreat without the utmost danger and confusion." Washington appointed as members of the court: Generals Muhlenberg, Weedon, Conway, and Huntingdon; Colonels Stephens , Dayton, McClennachan, Stewart, Bradley, Davis, DeHart and Thackston. After careful examination Wayne was acquitted with the highest honor and Washington approved the verdict. On October 30th, Huntingdon was again Brigadier and with other brigadiers were responsible for seeing that the arms and ammunition of their men was in the best order. All damp cartridges were to be dried and ready for use. Under orders of November 14th, since the colder weather was at hand the brigadiers and officers were to complete their clothing returns at once. The meeting was held at Huntingdon's quarters so that the wants and needs of the respective brigades would be known and arrangements were made for their proper distribution.
On November 19th, another meeting was held at Huntingdon's quarters, this time to discuss plans for instituting a larger, more comprehensive cavalry. Prior to the entry of the army into Valley Forge on the 19th of December, Huntingdon was appointed Brigadier for the day on the 17th. In the orders, Washington "expresses his thanks to the officers and soldiers for the fortitude and patience with which they have sustained the fatigues of the campaign." Adding, "every motive therefore urges and commands us to a firm and manly perseverence in our opposition to our cruel oppressors to slight difficulties embrace hardships, and contemn every danger. The General wishes it was in his power to conduct the troops into the best winter quarters but where are those to be found. Should we retire into the interior parts of the country we should find them crowded with virtuous citizens who sacrificing their all have left Philadelphia and fled hither for protection to this distress, humanity forbids to add, this is not all we should leave a vast extent of fertile country to be despoiled of and ravaged by the enemy from which they would draw vast supplies and where many of our friends would be exposed to all the miseries of the most insulting and wanton depredations." Washington realized the army would have a hard winter ahead and he urged the officers and men to "surmount every difficulty with the fortitude and patience becoming their profession and the sacred cause in which they are engaged."... "He himself will share in the hardships and partake of every inconvenience."
On and after Christmas, 1777, general orders called for a general court martial and a captain from Huntingdon's brigade was approved by him to serve. On December 30th, Huntingdon was again appointed Brigadier for the day. In the order it is interesting to note: "A flag will go into Philadelphia to-morrow morning, any person wanting to send anything to the prisoners must apply to the Commissary Gen'l of prisoners at the Clothiers Store."
Again on January 14, 1778, Huntingdon is Brigadier and also on the 23rd. The orders show that Washington is zealous in his demands that all weapons shall be in good shape, and in this case the brigade commanders are to report at once to the Adjutant General concerning the deficiency of bayonets in their brigades. On February 1st, when Huntingdon is Brigadier, the general orders stipulate a resolution of Congress, "That the Commissary General of purchase and issues and their respective offices shall be subject to military arrest and trial by order of the Commander-in-Chief." General Huntingdon is Brigadier on February 11, and during this time several courts martial were held. On February 18th, Huntingdon is Brigadier again when a soldier is found guilty of gaming and ordered discharged from the service. He served as Brigadier once more that month on the 25th.
In March, Huntingdon was Brigadier on the 4th. The orders are light as Washington invited all Field Officers when they were relieved of duty to dine with him. One week later Huntingdon is appointed Brigadier and general orders call for the removal of all the filth about the camp in order to guard the health of the soldiers. When he is Brigadier once more on the 29th, the orders announce that Captain Convers from his brigade is the Inspector of the brigade.
As spring approached conditions in camp had materially improved. The health of the army was good, more clothing had finally arrived, food was more plentiful, the morale of the soldiers had improved with the training they received from von Steuben, and lastly, Congress was more prompt in paying the soldiers. The last entry in Weedon's Orderly Book concerning Huntingdon's brigade was on May 3, that on the following Wednesday the brigade would receive their pay.
In the late spring, before the army left Valley Forge, Washington heard rumors that the British intended to evacuate Philadelphia. On May 30th, General Washington issued the following order to Major General Charles Lee: "Poor's, Varnum and Huntingdon's brigades are to march in one division under your command to the North River." Later these directions were modified because the British left Philadelphia on June 18th, and Washington ordered his army to pursue the enemy across New Jersey which resulted in the Battle of Monmouth on June 28th. The night before the battle the command under Lee was close to the British lines. He was ordered by Washington to be ready to attack early in the morning. He informed Lee that would follow with his army to support him and continue the attack.
Washington reported to Congress from Englishtown on July 1st, "After marching about five miles, to my great surprise and mortification, I met the whole advanced corps retreating, and as I was told, by General Lee's orders, without having any opposition, except one fire, given by a party under the command of Colonel Butler, on their being charged by the enemy's cavalry, who were repulsed. I proceeded immediately to the rear of the troops which I found closely pressed by the enemy, and gave directions for forming part of the retreating troops, who, by the brave spirited conduct of the officers, aided by some pieces of well-served artillery, checked the enemy's advance and gave time to make a disposition of the left wing and second line of the army upon an eminence and in a wood a little in the rear, covered by a morass in front." Then the enemy were checked and driven back by the Continental divisions under Greene and Wayne. Then night came on which prevented Washington from following through with the attack he intended to make. The American army was notified to be ready for the attack early in the morning. But in the quietness of the night the British retreated. In his report to Congress Washington continued: "The peculiar situation of General Lee at this time requires I should say nothing concerning his conduct. He is now under arrest. The charges against him with such sentence as the court martial may decree in his case, shall be transmitted for the approbation or disapprobation of Congress, as soon as it shall be passed."
The General Court Martial consisted of the following members, Major General Lord Stirling, President; Brigadier generals Smallwood, Poor, Woodford and Huntingdon, Colonels Irvine, Shepherd, Swift, Wigglesworth, Angel, Clarke, Williams and Febiger. John Laurens, Judge Advocate. Perhaps Huntingdon's most outstanding work was at Valley forge where he revealed unusual executive and administrative leadership. Washington placed Huntingdon the Board of the Court Martial as he recognized his unusual ability, legal understanding and military record in human relations. The general Court Martial held its first meeting on July 2nd, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The trial took some length, and the court record was about 134 pages. The Court found Lee guilty on three charges brought against him. His sentence was a suspension of his command in the armies of the United States for twelve months. Congress approved the findings by a vote to thirteen to seven. They also ordered the findings and proceedings of the court to be published.
Huntingdon was later appointed to another court...for the trial of John Andre, the man who aided Benedict Arnold in the treasonous betrayal of West Point. When Andre was examined by the court he made a complete statement of the facts and the truthfulness of the conditions. The court gave lengthy deliberations to the case and rendered the verdict that as a spy from the enemy and agreeable to the law and usage of nations he ought to be executed. Washington approved the opinion and ordered it fulfilled.
During the cantonment of the Continental Army at Newburgh New York in 1783, the Society of the Cincinnati was organized in the headquarters of Baron von Steuben. Under the leadership of General Knox, discussions were going on regarding the organization of a society composed of the officers of the army in order to perpetuate the friendship established among them. General Huntingdon was also an active individual in supporting the Knox plan. General Washington gave his support to the organization as well. Generals Knox, Huntingdon and Hand were members of the committee to draw up the constitution for the organization. Huntingdon wrote and produced the document, which was accepted by the committee. It was adopted by the general meeting. Washington was elected the first President-General and served until his death.
Huntingdon's military career was not dashing and glamorous as some of his fellow officers but his work was steady, dependable and impressive. The results achieved were basic. At the close of the war he was made major-general, an honor and promotion which he deserved and earned.
When he retired from the army he took up business in Norwich. His fellow citizens, however, called upon him to render public service and to which he responded. He filled the office of sheriff of New London county, and likewise as the treasurer of the state. Huntingdon served as an active delegate to the state constitutional convention. In 1789, Washington appointed Huntingdon collector of customs from the port of New London. He held this position almost to the time of his death in 1818. He served his nation and state well and gave Washington vital support in the struggle for independence.
By Charles William Heathcote, Ph.D.
The Picket Post, The Valley Forge Historical Society, May 1956