An American Military Career
By Joseph F.X. McCarthy
Stephen Moylan immigrated to America in 1768, where he became one of the Philadelphia Irish who played leadership roles in the American Revolution. Moylan’s particular activity was in the Continental Army, which he served effectively as a citizen soldier. His career as staff and line officer illustrates very well the inchoate growing pains of our country’s armed forces. It also shows a man committed to his adopted United States, and still a fond son of his native Ireland. He provides us with an interesting example of the paths open to men of talent in the critical years of the American Revolution.
In 1737, Stephen was born in Cork, a son of John Moylan and Mary Doran. The Moylans and Dorans were merchant families, among the most prosperous Catholic families in Cork. The penal code barred Irish Catholics from being educated in Ireland, but the family followed a tradition among Irish families that could afford the measure. They sent their sons to France for their formal education. According to a U.S. Army Unit History, Stephen "was educated by Jesuits in Paris". An uncle, Fr. Patrick Doran, S.J., was active in France, and it is likely that he was in touch with Stephen during his student days. It is certain that Father Doran helped Stephen’s brother, Francis Moylan (1735-1815) who was a student in Paris. Fr. Doran helped the young man decide to become a priest for his home diocese of Cork, rather than for a monastic order.
The Moylans seem to have followed another fairly common 18th Century habit: several sons migrated to foreign ports to establish informal branch offices of the family trading business. Stephen was an established businessman no later than 1765 at Lisbon, a city just recovering from the devastating earthquake of 1755. In 1768 he moved to America, settling in Philadelphia, which was soon to experience the political earthquake of the American Revolution.
Pennsylvania was probably the only colony in which an immigrant Catholic could expect to be welcomed. Pennsylvania, founded by Quakers, was home to many Protestant sects not welcome elsewhere in British North America. It even tolerated Roman Catholics. Moylan became a parishioner at St. Mary’s Church, the mother Church of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, which had opened for services only in 1763. St. Mary’s became the first cathedral of the Diocese of Philadelphia in 1810.
Philadelphia not only tolerated Catholics, it was the major American seaport, a second good reason for Stephen Moylan to reside there. Records show that Stephen Moylan entered several partnerships with other Philadelphians in owning several ships. He was also sole owner of several vessels at one time or another between 1768 and 1775. Like many colonial merchants, he prospered in the peacetime trade made possible by the end of the Seven Years War in 1763. That peace was threatened, however, by the escalating disaffection between the North American colonies and the home government. The Stamp Act controversy had hardly ended when Stephen arrived in America. The very next year, the English government insisted on keeping the tax on tea, which led, of course, to repression – and rebellion – in New England. Colonial merchants were caught up in embargoes and pledges to punish British commerce for the actions of the British government.
Stephen Moylan had been in Philadelphia only three years when he joined a number of Philadelphians of Irish descent, to establish The Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick. On St. Patrick’s Day in 1771, this "fraternal association" was created to assist immigrants from Ireland. (The New York Society of Friendly Sons dates from 1784.) The group was described as "for the most part men of fortune". Many founders became prominent in the Revolution – seven Continental Generals, many regimental commanders, leaders in business and social events in the city.
Only three founders were Roman Catholics – one of whom was Stephen Moylan. Moylan was chosen as the first President of the Society. Another Catholic member, Thomas FitzSimons, served in the Revolutionary War and represented Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention. He later helped found the Bank of North America and the Insurance Company of North America.
Some indication of the standing of the early members of the Friendly Sons can be gathered from their "honorary" membership list (folks unfortunate enough not to have Irish blood!) At the first meeting, the group chose two Honorary Members whose names resonate in the Revolutionary War period. One was John Dickinson, a successful Philadelphia lawyer who specialized in commercial law. Dickinson represented Pennsylvania at the Continental Congress. He opposed a complete split with Great Britain, and voted against adopting the Declaration of Independence. Once Independence had been proclaimed, he volunteered for military service.
Robert Morris, known to the schoolbooks as "Financier of the Revolution" was the second honorary member inducted by President Moylan in 1771. Morris must have been especially happy to have close contact with the Friendly Sons. According to the history of that organization, members contributed 35% of the funds needed to establish the Bank of the United States in 1780 – which Morris established to supply the Continental Army. Membership in the Society does never had any special political filter, but its members were solidly behind the Revolution. A solitary Tory among them was expelled from the Society!
One anecdote is especially indicative of the attitude, and the prestige, of the Society. In December 1781, with victory at Yorktown virtually guaranteeing peace, the Friendly Sons wished to honor George Washington in a special way. What better than to make him an Honorary member? Unfortunately, the list of Honoraries was already full. So, a special exception was made for General Washington: he was "unanimously adopted" as a full member of the Society. The General wrote a gracious and apparently heartfelt acceptance, including the remarks. . .
I accept with singular pleasure the Ensign of . . . a Society distinguished for the firm adherance of its Members to the glorious Cause in which we are embarked.
Give me leave to assure you, Sir, that I shall never cast my eyes on the badge with which I am honoured, but with a grateful remembrance of the polite and affectionate manner in which it was presented.
The General actually attended three meetings of the Society: one at which he was guest of honor, and two regular meetings, which he chose to attend as a member.
The Society of the Friendly Sons fell into a major decline in the 1790s, because many of its younger members joined the new Hibernian Society, which seemed to have a much more active agenda. Stephen Moylan was reelected President in 1796, and according to the historian of the New York Friendly Sons, the Philadelphia group "was probably kept alive by General Stephen Moylan".
At the dawn of the Revolutionary War, Stephen Moylan had established himself as a successful merchant, and was a leader in Philadelphia Irish circles, regardless of religious affiliations. The onset of war, and the assistance of one friend, brought him to the birthplace of the United States Army, the siege lines around British-occupied Boston.
SIEGE LINES AROUND BOSTON
Tension between the American colonies and the mother country accelerated in the 1770s, leading to armed confrontation in 1774. Colonial governments agreed to embargo trade with England, and a Continental Congress was assembled. The shooting war broke out in the Boston area, where Crown forces occupied the city. In April 1775, battles at Concord and Lexington pitted redcoated regulars against colonial militiamen. In May, militia troops captured Fort Ticonderoga (during Fall and Winter, that fort’s guns were hauled overland to provide artillery for the siege of Boston). In June, the Continental Congress appointed George Washington to command the forces around Boston. Those forces were militiamen from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, who had trooped to the Boston area. They set up roadblocks and built rough fortifications, intending to cut Boston off from overland contact: this would turn the redcoats into a besieged army.
Before Washington could arrive, the battle of Bunker Hill took place. This was one of the bloodiest British blunders of the entire war: they won the high ground, but lost over a thousand men, charging under their packs against entrenched and fortified colonists. Many of the casualties were company grade officers.
The British forces in Boston included several regiments of infantry, plus grenadiers, artillery, and marines. These troops had good equipment and training, but Bunker Hill gave them reason to be cautious. Many competent infantry and grenadier officers had been killed at Bunker Hill, and the higher-ranking leaders did not prove themselves especially competent. The British had a formidable record of success, however. At close quarters, British bayonet charges were historically impressive, and must have been visually terrifying. Units of the Royal Navy were available to provide vital supplies, artillery cover, and landing services for the army units. Moreover, the British had a record of recent success in the Seven Years War. Their army had proved it could crush rebels. Just a generation earlier, British and German troops crushed the 1745 Scottish rebellion at Culloden. The troops then methodically tracked down and exterminated the Scots survivors of that campaign. Rebels in America knew they might face the same fate.
By Act of Congress, Washington had been placed in command of a Continental Army. Congress also appointed four Major Generals and eight Brigadiers. Congress defined the Army to include the forces then besieging Boston. It also provided for the first regular troops, six companies of infantry to be recruited in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. When Washington took command, he described his troops as a "mixed multitude . . . with very little discipline, order, or government". It would take a great deal more than an Act of Congress to develop an army, as Washington appears to have known from the start. He and Congress visualized an Army based on the British model, with strict discipline and emphasis on infantry, but with various staff services. None of these existed in July 1775, when the Virginian assumed command. His problems were to organize, train, and discipline the units, while keeping the siege lines tight around Boston.
At that point, there seemed to be about 14,500 men under his command. These were militiamen, organized roughly into companies and regiments, and belonging to the various New England States. There were a handful of artillery pieces, belonging to various units. Officers, elected by towns or by their troops, were seldom expert in tactics or general military strategy. Military engineering was in unusually short supply, and any sort of supply was a major (and continuing) headache. Henry Knox was one of the best prepared officers. A bookseller by trade, he was self-taught officer; he had prepared himself by studying published works on military strategy and tactics. Uniforms of any kind were a rarity, and a majority of the New England militia fought in their everyday clothes: uniforms did exist, but they weren’t common until well into the Revolutionary War. Even then, they were not "uniform" in appearance.
MOYLAN’S EARLY SERVICES
Stephen Moylan stepped into this more or less chaotic situation, following a letter (dated July 11, 1775) from John Dickinson to Washington commending him to the General. Moylan had a European education, and experience as shipowner and merchant. Washington accepted his services, and on August 11 issued a General Order that appointed him "Muster-Master General" of the "Army of the United Colonies". Incidentally the "General" in his job title meant that his duty was army-wide; it did not make him a General. Washington’s Order reflects the official attitude of Army headquarters at that time: the Army of the United Colonies was indeed fighting the "ministerial army", but General Washington and his officers still toasted the King’s health at dinner.
This appointment itself is a fairly good indication of one of the problems of the Continental Army. "Musters" were of two types: the formal pubic assembly (and headcount) of troops, and the paper reports on the presence and availability of the men in service. The General needed to know how many men were really available, and what was the condition of their equipment and training. In fact, many companies had been depleted by illness, injury, or by absence from camp. It’s much too strong to describe these absences as desertions in the face of the enemy, but discipline was certainly lax in the siege lines around Boston. Many troops simply saw themselves needed more at home than sitting behind siege lines. An accurate muster roll was obviously necessary.
Discipline was enforced by officers and sergeants, backed by courts martial. Congress had adopted Articles of War for governing the armed forces, very similar to current British documents. Court martial documents suggest both the kinds of offenses, and the kinds of punishments administered. On August 18, 1775, for example, a General Order confirmed sentences of courts martial against one soldier who had stolen a cheese (39 lashes), and against another who had sold his gun and drawn "blanket pay" for a blanket he already had (10 lashes and a fine of 12 shillings).
With his appointment, Moylan received the authority to direct company and regimental commanders in the business of reporting, methodically and accurately. He devised and distributed forms on which troop musters were to be provided. He set dates and times for "musters", and he informed the General promptly about the size and disposition of the troops. His muster reports included not only the troops, but their equipment. He also provided volunteer service as a staff secretary to the General.
One unusual feature of Moylan’s service at this early point in the War involves the first ships to operate under the orders of the "United Colonies". The need for warships was dramatized when word reached headquarters of unarmed British supply ships sailing to Quebec or to Boston. If American vessels could intercept these ships and seize their cargoes, it would make a significant addition to Washington’s army’s supplies. On
October 4, 1775, Washington ordered Moylan and Colonel John Glover to secure and outfit "two armed vessels". The order continued, in terms that shed special light on the problems of the army. Glover and Moylan were to "hire the vessels", and if possible to borrow cannon and swords for use on them. If borrowing was out of the question, they were to arrange monthly installment payments at the lowest possible cost. Glover commanded a Regiment that included almost every able-bodied man in Marblehead, Massachusetts: Marblehead was a major seaport, and familiarity with shipping was in Glover’s blood. Glover and Moylan set about their business, but obviously ran into difficulties.
Moylan’s letter to Washington (October 24, 1775) throws light on the work of raising equipment – as well as on its author’s personality. In this summary report of the project, Moylan first defended Glover from some charges (sources unnamed) that he was slack in outfitting and dispatching the vessels. He continued, describing the "gang" of carpenters available as the "idlest scoundrels in nature" and "religious rascalls" who wouldn’t work on Sunday. Moylan added an opinion as to how such people should be handled:
"There is one reason, and I think a substantial one, why a person born in the same town or neighborhood, should not be employed on public affairs of this nature in that town or neighborhood; it is, that the spirit of equality which reigns through this country will make him afraid of exerting that authority necessary for the expediting of his business; he must shake every man by the hand, and desire, beg, and pray, do brother, do my friend, do such a thing; whereas a few hearty damns from a person who did not care a damn for them, would have a much better effect."
Troubled as equipping them might have been, eventually there were not two but seven vessels, under Washington’s overall command. These were "privateers", intended to capture enemy supply ships rather than to engage Royal Navy ships of war. All but one of them were operating before the first Continental Navy vessel was commissioned. That vessel, Lexington, was commanded by Captain John Barry, like Moylan an Irish-born Philadelphian. In addition to outfitting Washington’s privateers, Moylan appointed officials in several seacoast towns, to judge and dispose of cargoes captured by the ships.
By the beginning of 1776, Moylan was an outspoken advocate of independence. This position was quite different from that of his friend John Dickinson, who still hoped for reconciliation between Great Britain and the American colonies. However, as early as January 1776, Moylan had committed himself in writing to the cause of independence. He did this in a letter to Joseph Reed, in which he complained about the long debates over independence. Reed, Military Secretary to General Washington, was well known to Moylan. They served together on Washington’s staff, and became lifelong friends.
AIDE DE CAMP TO THE GENERAL
Their relationship continued in Moylan’s next official assignment. On March 24, he was appointed aide-de-camp to General Washington, while Reed continued as Washington’s military secretary. An ADC was a very significant officer in 18th Century military staffs. In addition to routine staff work, the ADC often transmitted the commander’s orders and wishes to other officers, regardless of rank. So, appointment as General Washington’s ADC suggests that Washington had a very high degree of confidence in Moylan’s discretion. It also showed that Moylan’s military skills had impressed his commander. The assignment carried with it the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Moylan’s services as ADC began just after the British moved their army and navy units from Boston. "Evacuation Day" coincided with St. Patrick’s Day, so we may be certain that Moylan and other officers of Irish descent had a special celebration on March 17, 1776. One of the major troop movements of the entire war took place immediately after the evacuation of Boston. General Washington moved his entire available force from the Boston area to New York, because he correctly assumed that the British would move against that seaport. Moylan and all the other staff officers had more than a normal load of duties to prepare the necessary orders and arrangements to transfer several thousand troops from Massachusetts to New York. One significant unit was Glover’s regiment, now one of the best trained and dedicated units in the American Army: it moved from its home base at Beverly, Massachusetts on July 20, 1776.
Among the major services developed during the two year siege of Boston was the Quartermaster Department. The Quartermaster General was probably Washington’s most important staff officer: his duties included securing, transporting and delivering supplies, arranging camp sites, and regulating troop movements or marches. To organize that service in 1775, Washington picked his then ADC, Thomas Mifflin.
Mifflin, like Moylan, had been a merchant in Philadelphia before hostilities broke out. He then committed himself to the Revolutionary cause and joined the army, a move that caused his Quaker meeting to exclude him. After the successful siege of Boston, Mifflin apparently wished to command combat troops rather than logistics personnel, and he resigned as the Army’s first Quartermaster General. Washington looked no further than his own staff to find a replacement. Stephen Moylan, ranking as colonel, was appointed as the Second Quartermaster General.
He inherited an extremely difficult position. Until March 1776, the focus of the entire supply service had been dedicated to serve a tight ring of posts around Boston. Supplying troops on the move was an entirely different matter. Moylan was responsible for providing shelter, food, wagons and draft animals, forage for animals. He had to organize and protect supply lines to insure that the army was equipped as needed.
Water transportation is always easier to manage and less costly than land transportation. So, Moylan organized waterborne supply routes to the New York theater of operations. He relied heavily on protected waterways leading to New York Bay from New Jersey. the Hudson and East Rivers, and Long Island Sound. To defend these water routes, his men used chevaux de frise. These were basically boxes, into which iron or wooden stakes were driven. Then the boxes were ballasted, and towed into position across a waterway, where they were sunk, leaving narrow navigable channels for supply vessels. In theory, open channels around these obstacles would be covered by artillery fire. Around New York, there just weren’t artillery pieces to spare for those positions.
The New York campaign was a disaster for the Americans, who were based in Brooklyn. Outnumbered, outgunned, and outflanked in the Battle of Brooklyn, what was left of the American Army escaped by a combination of good luck (a foggy night) and the seamanship of Colonel Glover’s Regiment (combining the work of soldiers, sailors, and marines). Most of the baggage and supplies in those wagons stayed in Brooklyn, to be burned by patriots or seized by British and Hessian troops. This substantial loss of equipment increased the strain on the wagons located on Manhattan Island. Inevitably, there were breakdowns and nearly fatal interruptions of supply. The water routes soon fell into British hands, and the underwater obstacles were only a minor nuisance to the Royal Navy. As a result, the supply routes from upstate New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were broken or badly impaired – while the troops were in great need of all supplies.
Troop morale was battered by defeat and retreat, compounded by the loss of blankets, arms, ammunition, and shelter. A Congressional committee investigated the state of the Army in New York. It requested ("delicately") that Moylan resign as Quartermaster General. This he did in September, after explaining that he was victim of circumstances "beyond the power of man" to control. Mifflin returned as Quartermaster General, and Moylan in effect was free to do as he pleased. Moylan pleased to stay with the Army as a volunteer, and returned to an unofficial staff position under Washington.
Mifflin’s return as Quartermaster General did not – could not – in itself improve the supply situation. Mifflin was not happy as the army’s chief supply officer, despite the fact that he received promotion to Major General early in 1777. Discontented with Washington’s cautious tactics, he resigned as Quartermaster General, and his commission as Major General in October 1777. He then became active in politics, and played a role in the move to replace Washington with Gates – a position he later publicly denied. Mifflin was a successful politician, serving as Governor of Pennsylvania for three terms. George Washington resumed good relations with him, as did Moylan. In 1793, Mifflin, then Governor of Pennsylvania, commissioned Moylan as Major General of Militia.
Quartermaster affairs were in chaos when the Third Quartermaster General was appointed: Nathanael Greene. Greene reorganized the service, setting up permanent depots and arsenals – while maintaining his record as a first-rate fighting Major General. Mifflin’s congressional friends forced Greene out of the Quartermaster department, but that freed him to command the southern campaign of 1780-1783.
Moylan’s military career was in limbo only a short time. He did general staff work for Washington, including occasional special assignments. Staff work, however, was not to occupy the rest of Moylan’s military career. General Washington invited him to recruit, organize, and command a Regiment of Light Dragoons. This Regiment, originally designated the 1st Pennsylvania, became a Continental Army regular unit, the Fourth Regiment of Dragoons – known in its official Army Unit History as 4th Continental Light Dragoon Regiment ("Moylan’s"). It was authorized on January 5, 1777 and was organized in the spring of 1777. Recruits were drawn from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and New Jersey. They were to fill a great need.
The Continental Army was chronically short of all kinds of equipment and organizations. One of the glaring shortages was an effective cavalry force. 18th Century cavalry had a variety of functions: intelligence gathering; scouting in advance and to the flanks of columns; raiding enemy posts and support forces; holding or severing supply routes; and the shock value of a cavalry charge against ground troops. "Irregular" cavalry existed in virtually every State, and some did their work exceedingly well: the Southern Army got invaluable cavalry services from "Lee’s Legion", headed by Henry (Light Horse Harry) Lee. The regular Army, however, had very little cavalry support of its own. Washington operated without the "eyes" that a good cavalry force would provide.
Dragoons were cavalrymen with a reputation for toughness in either combat or non-combat roles. They were well-armed (carbines or pistols plus sabers) and could patrol wide areas from horseback. In combat, dragoons often rode to suitable battlefield positions, dismounted, and fought as well-equipped foot soldiers. They could be used to discourage Tories, suppress opposition, and to enforce orders – such as supplying food for troops. The name dragoon came into use as a derivative of "dragon" (an ancestor of the carbine, midway between pistol and musket in length). According to many modern authorities (William Safire among them) our word "goon", meaning a strong-armed henchman, was derived from "dragoon". The word "Dragoon" became a verb as much as a noun, for people spoke of ‘being dragooned’ into doing something. One wonders whether the Father of Our Country recalled Moylan’s attitude toward "idle rascals" when he appointed his long-time staff officer to command a new regiment of dragoons.
Calling a new regiment "dragoons" of course didn’t mean they were the well equipped and ruthlessly efficient cavalry that people imagined when the heard the name. The first recruits responded to Moylan's recruiting efforts a bit faster than was usual. This may have been because of one condition of 18th century warfare that is especially unfamiliar today: a successful cavalry unit could win its members financial rewards. A captured British horse was a valuable commodity, for example, and rewards were routinely paid for them. With a little imagination, one can see that recruiting for dragoons on land, or for privateers at sea, carried special appeal to a certain entrepreneurial spirit.
These troopers were not all models of either military or civilian behavior. In August 1777, fifteen of Moylan’s men were tried by court martial for mutiny and desertion. On reviewing the trial and recommendations, Washington pardoned the men, but transferred them from the dragoons to infantry units. It appears to have been a punishment to take away horse, saber, and the flair of being a dragoon.
Once men were recruited for Moylan’s Regiment, there was an immediate problem, uniforms. Here, Moylan and his newly recruited officers allowed aesthetics to win over common battlefield concerns. The original troopers were dressed in 240 coats captured at Saratoga, typical British red coats, faced with blue. The officers chose the same color combinations for their uniforms. Dashing in appearance, this was a color combination to impress friend and foe alike. Civilians might well be astonished or frightened out of their wits by a troop of well armed, red-coated horsemen cantering by their farms. How they escaped what we today call "friendly fire" is a mystery, perhaps best explained by General Washington’s intervention.
Washington was appalled by the uniform, and directed that the uniforms be re-dyed to whatever color would best hide the red. From his headquarters in Morristown, N.J., Washington issued the order in a letter to Moylan, adding, "I care not what it is, so that the present Colors be changed." (May 12, 1777). The quickest "fix" of this problem was to add a green cloak to cover the red, and Moylan’s Dragoons entered combat and patrol work so attired.
Not even a direct order from the commanding general could accomplish the transformation desired. For one thing, there weren’t other uniform coats available; for another, re-dying was no small task. By September of that same year, Washington had discovered some merit in the red coats. He ordered Pulaski (then in command of all continental cavalry) to send out fifty Horse, including some from "Moylan’s in their Red uniforms, which will serve to deceive both the Enemy and Country people." As late as May 1778, Moylan’s men still wore red, beneath their cloaks; Washington wrote that, if this was correct, it "takes off the objection which I had to their uniforms." By 1779, Moylan’s troops were uniformed in green with red facings and linings – but still with red waistcoats. Like dragoons everywhere, they cut a dashing figure, firearms and sabers visible, wearing buckskin breeches, boots and leather helmets.
Moylan’s relationship with Pulaski was never cordial. The Polish patriot had arrived in America in mid-1777. He was appointed Brigadier General, and given command of all Continental cavalry. This post was one Moylan wanted his friend Joseph Reed to accept, but Reed had refused it. Perhaps this clouded Moylan’s relations with Pulaski. In many incidents in other parts of the Army, there was tension between American officers and the newly-arrived Europeans who received command positions on arrival. Whatever the event, Pulaski called for the court-martial of Colonel Moylan in October 1777. Moylan was charged with insubordination toward Pulaski, with having struck another Polish officer, Zielinski, and with using irritating language. The court was headed by Colonel Bland of the 3rd Dragoons. Moylan was found not guilty, and General Washington confirmed the finding of the Court on October 31, 1777.
1777-78 was the winter of Valley Forge, the test by ice of the new American Army. The main army units, commanded by Washington, took up winter quarters at Valley Forge with very sound expectations of a good winter. They were within easy reach of Philadelphia, and on the main roads from Pennsylvania’s food-rich Dutch country. At Valley Forge, the Army stood between the British army in Philadelphia and the forges and mines that supplied much of the iron needed for the war effort. The unexpected sufferings of the troops, and the rigor of their training during the winter lull in combat formed the steel backbone that kept an American Army in the field. All four Continental Dragoons Regiments were at Valley Forge with the main army. During the absence of General Pulaski, Moylan was acting in command of the entire cavalry at Valley Forge.
Count Pulaski took a personal role in foraging operations away from the main camp; in that work he was under the overall command of General Anthony Wayne – and another breach developed between American and foreign officers. Stiff necks may have been present all round, but Pulaski decided he would not serve under Wayne, and resigned his command of the cavalry in March 1778. Pulaski proceeded to raise a "Legion" of his own, which he led until his death at the siege of Savannah in 1779: he was mortally wounded leading a cavalry charge against British fortifications.
The vacancy in command of continental Cavalry did not last long. On March 20, 1778, Washington addressed a letter to Moylan from his headquarters at Valley Forge. In read, in part,
"As Count Pulaski has left the Command of the horse never, I believe, to return to any general command in it again, I have to desire that you will repair to Trenton, and take upon yourself the command of that Corps till Congress shall determine further on this head."
The general included orders to the other Regimental commanders to obey Moylan. Moylan’s was instructed to shape up the four Regiments in New Jersey, to see to it that their saddles, accoutrements and arms were fit for service. There were specific instructions to keep officers with their troops. Moylan was also ordered to determine whether absent officers are AWOL, and if so to "have them brought to trial, for I am determined to make examples of those to whom this shameful neglect of the Cavalry has been owing."
Discipline, in other words, was still a major concern after Valley Forge.
UNIT HISTORY – MOYLAN’S DRAGOONS
Stephen Moylan had about as wide an experience in Revolutionary War actions as can be imagined. The siege of Boston, the Battle of Brooklyn and its consequences, Princeton – all were engagements in which he played a part. The Dragoons were an essential part of the main Continental Army, screening its movements, holding bridges and passes on routes, and helping gather food and forage from the areas in which the Army operated. Moylan’s Regiment played roles in campaigns and engagements throughout the middle and southern states. In some actions, a detachment of one troop might have been engaged, in others the bulk of the Regiment took part. The official U.S.Army unit history lists the following engagements:
Northern New Jersey
Defense of Philadelphia
New York, 1779
New Jersey 1780
Philadelphia-Monmouth (one troop)
The Regiment existed in one form or another from 1777 to June 11, 1783, when it was inactivated; final disbanding took place on November 15, 1783. During its service, the Regiment was attached to the Main Army, to the Middle Department, to the Highlands Department, reassigned to the Main Army in 1780, to the Middle Department later that year, and finally to the Southern Department. For part of its life it was known as the
"4th Legionary Corps", a unit that incorporated mounted and dismounted soldiers.
Yorktown was not the last activity for Moylan’s Dragoons. The Regiment was ordered to join the southern army, headed by General St. Clair to insure against Tory uprisings, or the sudden reappearance of British forces. The Dragoons counted only fourteen officers and ninety four men at this point. Moylan himself did not accompany them on this assignment, for he had developed physical problems. So, Washington gave him permission to return from Yorktown to Philadelphia in November 1781. This ended the active military service of the officer described in the U.S. Army’s unit history as the highest-ranking "native" American Catholic of the Revolution.
As part of the aftermath of the battle of Monmouth in June 1778, Moylan’s regiment operated in the northern New Jersey area. Their major function was to stalk British units that had occupied many northern New Jersey villages. The dragoons would harass them as they withdrew to fixed defenses around New York harbor. Moylan’s men were active, ‘hanging on" the enemy as he withdrew forces toward New York. They also kept close tabs on civilians in the area, especially those suspected of Tory sympathies. These were standard duties for dragoons.
Apparently there was also time for the dragoons and their officers to fraternize with the local population. One of the most prominent local families was that of Col. Phillip Van Horne, whose rank had been in the New Jersey militia before the Revolution. The Colonel carried out 18th century habits of hospitality during the war years, making his home in Middlebrook a regular stopping place for officers on duty in the area. These included British as well as American officers, as the tides of war swept over the area. One report, for example, states that Col. Van Horne entertained both Lord Cornwallis and General Benjamin Lincoln on the same day – one for breakfast and one for dinner.
Colonel Stephen Moylan was one visitor who enjoyed his hospitality. As one of his fellow officers put it, Colonel Moylan served not only Mars, but Venus in Middlebrook. Colonel Van Horne was father to five daughters, one of whom, Mary Ricketts Van Horne, was known as the "Belle of Middlebrook". Stephen Moylan and Mary Ricketts Van Horne were engaged in July, and married in October 1778. The new Mrs. Moylan accompanied her husband when his regiment was assigned first to the White Plains area of New York, and then to Connecticut. In both States, the dragoons had their customary duties, patrolling and foraging for supplies – and being prepared to ride to the defense of Connecticut towns that might face British raiding parties. The Moylans’ first child was stillborn at Middletown, Connecticut in March 1780.
On his return to Philadelphia, Stephen Moylan resumed some civilian activities. He probably resumed commercial activities, and he certainly resumed his pre-war social life. The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, for example, attracted his interest again. One curious feature of his work with the Friendly Sons is that he served as its President once again; he was the last President of the original Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Philadelphia, for the association apparently died out early in the 1800s. Moylan also belonged to the Cincinnati, an association of Revolutionary War officers who reverted to their civilian activities after the War. He had changed from a merchant into a soldier, and he clearly wished to continue his military career. This was not to be, for in the general demobilization of the army, Moylan’s regiment, and his assignment as its colonel, disappeared in 1783.
Congress promoted Moylan as Brevet Brigadier General on November 3, 1783. This did not give him any active duty responsibilities. It carried the personal title of general, and whatever prestige that rank might command. In circles that Moylan valued, it was customary to address him or refer to him as "General Moylan", as did his wartime commander, General Washington. His military services had begun when the Continental Army existed only on paper. He helped buy and equip the first vessels to sail under continental orders. He brought management skills and intense personal commitment to a variety of staff positions in the infant Army. He passed up an opportunity to return to life as a merchant after undergoing intense public pressure to resign his assignment as Quartermaster General. Instead, after a period of volunteer service, he organized and commanded a Dragoon Regiment, and eventually became ranking officer in the Continental Cavalry.
Moylan’s family grew to include two daughters and another one or two children who died in infancy. In 1786 Thomas FitzSimons is listed as godfather at the baptism of Maria, the elder daughter. Moylan had continued his friendship with that rising figure in Philadelphia business. During the formation of the government under the Constitution, Moylan’s name came up as a possible Postmaster General, and as a possible Ambassador to Portugal. Neither post materialized, although it appears he was offered a non-paying ambassadorship during the Washington presidency.
His interests included a farm in Chester County as well as a residence in Philadelphia. Moylan continued to be active in public life, serving Chester County as Recorder of Deeds in 1792-1793. In 1793, Governor Mifflin appointed him Major General of militia, for Chester and Delaware Counties. That same year, he received an appointment from President Washington as Commissioner of Loans for the State of Pennsylvania. Anecdotal evidence shows that he conducted the business of the federal loan office from his home, in Philadelphia.
Stephen Moylan was beyond question the best known member of his family in America during the Revolutionary War period. However, there is evidence that at least two other Moylans were active in Philadelphia during that period. John Moylan (1745-1799) was active in the textile and clothing businesses, and served as clothier to the Continental Army for a time in 1781. That was a critical period for the Army. As anyone selling goods to the Army, John Moylan clearly risked his own financial well-being by entering that business. John returned to Europe after the war, and died in England.
Jasper Moylan (1758-1812), Stephen’s young half-brother, reached Philadelphia by way of Spain late in 1781. He appears to have joined a Philadelphia militia unit before the forces demobilized after the war, and he became a lawyer in the city.
A MOYLAN IN IRELAND
Perhaps the most gifted of Stephen’s brothers was Francis. When Stephen Moylan moved to Philadelphia, Francis was already a priest in the Cork Diocese. Fr. Francis Moylan had been a seminarian at the Irish College in Toulouse, did parish work in Paris for a time, then returned to Cork, where he became a pastor. In 1775, the same year Stephen offered his services to General Washington, Fr. Francis was elevated to Bishop of Kerry. He continued in Kerry through the years of the American Revolution. In 1787 he was transferred to become Bishop of Cork.
Bishop Moylan arrived in his home see in a turbulent and challenging time. The most rigorous elements in the anti-Catholic Penal Laws had passed into disuse, and the Bishop did not face direct persecution. However, Irish Catholics still labored under severe political disabilities, and the status of the Catholic Church itself was unclear. Bishop Moylan found Cork without a cathedral or a seminary, and with little or no Catholic participation in public life. Before he died in 1815, he built a cathedral, established a seminary and helped establish Maynooth College, of which he became a trustee. He also established the Christian Brothers in Cork, as well as the Ursuline sisters (two Moylan sisters served in the Ursulines while their brother was Bishop).
In 1808, the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne opened for services; it was the first Catholic Church in the north side of Cork City. That same year, Bishop Moylan ordained Fr. John England, the first priest ordained in the new Cathedral. The Bishop gave great responsibility and latitude to Fr. England. The young priest was allowed to speak out on public issues, and to organize lay groups seeking political rights for Catholics. England organized and published a newspaper, The Religious Repository, which didn’t hesitate to argue its positions forcefully. Although he may have had somewhat different views, Bishop Moylan assigned England as Rector of the new Cork Diocesan Seminary.
When the Bishop and several Catholic laymen bought control of a local newspaper, The Cork Mercantile Chronicle in 1813, Fr. England became trustee of the paper. In effect, he was publisher, editor, and chief writer. The major issue between the United Kingdom government and the Catholic Church at this point was the question of a "veto" power for the government over candidates to become Bishops. The government saw this veto as a normal prerogative of the Crown, similar to what existed in many Catholic countries in Europe. The government insisted on the veto as part of any law granting full political rights for Irish Catholics. Fairly strong indications were given in Rome that the papacy would accept a veto in Irish episcopal appointments..
However, Irish lay people raised serious objections. They saw the veto as a government effort to control and dictate religious policy. Father England and his lay associates opposed the "veto" strenuously. Bishop Moylan was more concerned about reforming (or just "forming") the religious life of his diocese than about purely political activity. During 1808-09, Bishop Moylan had been willing to accept the veto as the price of freedom for his people. The Cork Mercantile Chronicle followed a strong anti-veto posture while Father England ran its affairs. By 1813, it seems that Bishop Moylan’s views on the veto had changed, and that he opposed it as an improper price for Irish civil rights. It is remarkable that the Bishop permitted, or even supported, the young priest’s public positions. It seems quite probably that the Bishop’s change in attitude was related to the arguments offered by Fr. England.
When the Bishop died early in 1815, England was named as executor of his will. The relationship between Bishop Moylan and Father England seems to have been the friendly relationship between a mentor and a favorite student. Two years after Bishop Moylan’s death, his successor reassigned England as parish priest in the village of Bandon. That move preceded England’s selection as Bishop of Charleston, S.C. – an assignment that removed him from Irish ecclesiastical issues.
However, when Bishop England arrived in Charleston, his baggage included his experiences under Bishop Moylan. Bishop England set up the first Catholic publication in the United States (The United States Catholic Miscellany), used a board of clergy and laymen to help run his diocese, and never hesitated to take on controversial issues. Much of Bishop England’s work in Charleston can be viewed as a result of his own work with Bishop Moylan, whose support had made England’s work in Ireland possible.
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