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Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Battle of Spanktown

I have written previously of the confusion of history with regard to various Revolutionary War events. Another prime example of this is Spanktown.  This colonial village, now know as Rahway, was certainly the scene of action, but exactly what action, and specifically where things occurred, is not particularly clear, at least to me.

A marker stands on Route 27 at Rahway River Park, proclaiming the area was the scene of an action in "January 1777:"

Specifically, the plaque tells us: "In January, 1777, a sharp fight took place here between the British and Gen. Maxwell’s men." David Munn, in his list of Revolutionary War skirmishes and battles, lists a foraging raid on January 5, 177 (confirmed in Howard Peckham's The Toll of Independence) and another Spanktown attack by New Jersey militia on January 8.  Peckham notes a January 16 attack "near Bonhamtown." The Federal Writers Project's History of Metuchen refers to a "famous raid on Spanktown (Rahway), during which American troops captured a thousand bushels of salt from the British garrison," occurring on January 6, and then refers to a series of skirmishes occurring that began in March.  Munn also lists at least two other Spanktown incidents in March. The Crossroads of the American Revolution website,, states that "the Battle of Spanktown was fought on St. Georges Avenue in the vicinity of Robinson’s Branch and the North Branch of the Rahway River. The battle lasted twelve hours with the rebels getting the best of the British, who lost almost one hundred men." It puts the date simply as "early 1777." A New York Times article appearing on February 21, 1897 refers t the February 23 action and claims "the British dead numbered 500," clearly an implausible figure, being double the British killed at Bunker Hill; such a count would have made this battle among the costliest of the entire war.

One of the Spanktown battles might well be the Battle of Punk Hill, so called, between Bonhamtown, Metuchen and Amboy, d, on March 8, involving American General William Maxwell and significant British forces, that might have turned into a more serious engagement.

On the other hand, the main battle, so-called Battle of Rahway by some, occurred in Spanktown on February 23, purportedly lasted 12 hours, and was part of the foraging efforts of the British.  Maxwell interrupted a foraging raid by British Colonel Charles Mawhood and pursued the British back to Amboy.

A hot dog truck is regularly parked next to the sign; I have been to the park twice and both times, the vendor was there.  At least we know today what is happening on the spot.

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