John Haslet (c. 1727– January 3, 1777) was an American clergyman and soldier from Milford, in
Kent County, Delaware. He was a veteran of the French and Indian War and an officer of the
Continental Army in the American Revolution, serving as the first Colonel of the 1st Delaware
Regiment. He was killed in action at the Battle of Princeton.
Early life and family
John Haslet was born in Dungiven Co Derry Ireland in 1727, the first of six children born to
Joseph Haslet and Ann Dykes.
John's father was a merchant and tenant farmer who probably managed to provide a decent
standard of living for his family. The Haslets were of Presbyterian stock whose ancestors settled
in Ulster sometime during the Plantation of Ireland which spanned the 16th and 17th centuries.
After completing his early education in Ireland he went on to study at the University of Glasgow
where, in 1749, he earned a Masters Degree in Divinity . He was licensed by the Derry Presbytery
in 1750, and ordained a minister in 1752. He married Shirley Stirling in 1750 who died a few years
later during the birth of their daughter.
During his years in Ireland, Haslet witnessed the plight of his Catholic neighbors who were
subjected to a series of draconian and repressive measures collectively known as the Penal Laws.
Provision of these laws denied Catholics the right to practice their religion, denied them the right
to an education, prevented them from owning property or holding office and barred them from
any undertaking that would improve their lot. Presbyterians did not fare much better. They were
subjected to many of the same provisions of the Penal Laws as their Catholic neighbors.
As a consequence, there was an exodus of Scotch -Irish to America in the latter half of the 18th
century. Haslet joined the exodus arriving in America circa 1757. He settled in Pennsylvania and
shortly afterwards was commissioned a Captain in the Pennsylvania Militia. He served in the
French and Indian War and was a participant in the expedition that captured Fort Duquesne in
Many of those Scotch-Irish who fled Ireland wound up in the ranks of Washington's Continental
army. The unintended consequence for England was that their former victims contributed
enormously in both talent and manpower to their defeat by the Continental army primarily made
up of rebellious subjects from their colonies augmented by unforgiving former Irish victims.
Haslet's participation played no small role in that outcome.
French and Indian War
Arriving in America in 1757, he served in the French and Indian War as a Captain in the
Pennsylvania militia. He was part of the Forbes expedition that captured Fort Duquesne in 1758
He wrote a letter describing the condition of the fort. (He was not part of the Braddock expedition.
He was still in Ireland at the time. He served in the Forbest expedition that captured Fort
Duquesne in November, 1758.)
By 1764, he had settled near Milford, Delaware, and married Jemima Molleston, the widow of John
Brinkle and sister of Henry Molleston. Records of the Presbyterian Historical Society of America
do not show him as a preacher in America; rather he is commonly referred to as "doctor" Haslet,
reference to his medical practice. In 1767, he bought a tract of land called "Longfield," now inside
the northern limits of Milford just off Roosa Road. They had four children together, Ann, Jemima,
John and Joseph.
In response to the request of the Continental Congress, the Lower Counties Assembly raised the
1st Delaware Regiment, placing Haslet at its command on January 19, 1776, with the rank of
Colonel. Known as the "Delaware Continentals" or "Delaware Blues," they were from the smallest
state, but at some 800 men, were the largest battalion in the army. David McCullough in 1776
describes them "turned out in handsome red trimmed blue coats, white waistcoats, buckskin
breeches, white woolen stockings, and carrying fine, 'lately imported' English muskets. Raised in
early 1776, they went from north in July and August 1776, arriving in time to engage in the entire
sequence of events surrounding the British capture of New York in 1776.
At the Battle of Long Island, the Delaware Regiment fought with Colonel William Smallwood's
Marylanders. Many thought these were the two best regiments in the Continental Army. They
fought under the command of Brigadier General William Alexander, Lord Stirling, and were
responsible for holding the Gowanus Road, the far right of the Continental Army line. They were
immediately south of Brooklyn, with New York Harbor to their right. On August 27, 1776, the
British sent much of their army well to the east, and under cover of darkness, easily turned the left
flank of the Continental Army. Only on the right did the American's hold their own.
Haslet brought his regiment to New York State for the Battle of Brooklyn, also known as the
Battle of Long Island, in the summer of 1776. After the early scuffles for freedom, the Patriots had
organized and declared their independence, and Gen. George Washington had set up camp in
Manhattan. The Battle of Brooklyn was the first real theater of war in the American Revolution,
and troops there experienced all the drama of combat. While Washington had 20,000 soldiers at his
disposal and had built reinforcements such as the famous Battery of cannons, the British flotilla
that arrived in New York Harbor in late July was much larger.
When the fighting began, Haslet was attending a court martial in Manhattan, but returned to the
regiment in time for some of the fighting.
When the British, under Gen. Howe, began to move, there was little that could be done. However,
near Brooklyn's western shore, Haslet's Delawares and their neighbors, Col. Smallwood's
Marylanders, were fighting so valiantly that they amazed the redcoats. Even when surrounded by
British grenadiers and the Scottish Black Watch, these two Mid-Atlantic regiments rallied until
Gen. William Alexander ordered a withdrawal.
Those who escaped fled under grapeshot and heavy musket fire, through a swamp and a creek to
safety. While 300 of the 400 Marylanders died, only 31 of Haslet's troops perished.
McCullough again relates how Haslet later described "how his 'Delawares' stood with 'determined
countenance,' on them all the while, and the enemy, 'though six times their number,' not daring
to attack." But they were nearly surrounded and, once ordered to leave, could only undertake a
harrowing retreat by wading and swimming across Gowanus Bay.
Retreating across Westchester County, Haslet's men won a victory over a corps of Loyalists at
Mamaroneck, New York. At White Plains, on October 28, 1776, the Delaware Regiment again
fought with Colonel William Smallwood's Marylanders, reinforcing militia placed on the strategic
Chatterton's Hill. The local militia fled under the British attack, but Haslet and Smallwood fought
on until, at last, they too yielded the ground. White Plains was another British victory, but
because of the difficulty in taking Chatterton's Hill, the price was great and the reward to the
British was little.
With expiring enlistments leaving fewer than 100 men remaining in his regiment, Haslet crossed
the Delaware with Washington and joined the attack on Trenton on Christmas Eve, 1776.
However, on January 3, 1777, in a skirmish at the beginning of the Battle of Princeton, with
General Hugh Mercer down and fatally wounded, Haslet tried to rally Mercer's brigade and was
himself killed, shot in the head and killed instantly. Nevertheless, they did rally and a surprising
victory was won to complement the earlier one at Trenton. The "corps of loyalists" he defeated at
Mamaroneck was led by the famous Indian fighter Robert Rogers. Legend has it that Washington
wept over his corpse on the battlefield and notes by Washington's stepson confirm that
Washington did come across Haslet's body at Princeton, but does not mention any shedding of
Haslet was first buried at the First Presbyterian Church cemetery in Philadelphia. By an act of the
Delaware General Assembly on July 1, 1841, his remains were disinterred and moved to the
Presbyterian Cemetery in Dover, Delaware. In 2001, the State of Delaware dedicated a monument
to honor him at Battle Monument Park in Princeton, New Jersey.
John Haslet was perhaps the best soldier Delaware had to offer, and the next best soldier, his good
friend Caesar Rodney, rushed to the Continental Army to try and fill his place. Haslet was
succeeded as Colonel by David Hall as Rodney returned home to be Delaware's wartime Governor,
but the regiment Haslet had built remained among the finest in the Continental Army until it was
virtually destroyed at the Battle of Camden in 1780.
McCullough, David (2005). 1776. Simon & Shuster, New York.
Munroe, John A. (1993). History of Delaware. University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-
Ward, Christopher. (1941). The Delaware Continentals, 1776-1783. Historical Society of
Scharf, John Thomas. (1888). History of Delaware 1609-1888. 2 vols.. L. J. Richards & Co.,
Walters, Fred B. (2005). John Haslet: A Useful One.
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