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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Charles Lee and the Widow White

On December 13, 1776, following the loss of New York and the retreat by Washington's army across New Jersey, General Charles Lee indulged himself at the Widow White's Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and was captured that day by a British patrol led by Colonel William Harcourt; the advance guard of that patrol was commanded by a young Banastre Tarleton.  They had extorted the information as to Lee's whereabouts from captured American sentries.  Here is the spot in Basking Ridge, indicated by the blue sign on the corner in the lower right.


There is a fair amount of commentary that contrary to being a severe blow to the Continental Army, the removal of Charles Lee at this time as a thorn in Washington's side was a good thing.  Lee and his approximately 2,000 men were in the vicinity of Basking Ridge; General John Sullivan took command of them after Lee's capture and added them to Washington's force.

What was interesting to me is that on this otherwise unremarkable corner in the New Jersey suburbs, two of the main characters of the Revolution--Lee and Tarleton--were present in a rather intimate setting.  If we listen, we might just catch Tarleton proclaiming, as the tavern was surrounded, "If the general does not surrender in five minutes, I will set fire to the house." Lee surrendered in his nightclothes, and the Americans suffered two killed, two wounded and five in all captured.
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