Our Amazing History: The Bridgehampton Militia

Vintage engraving showing the Assualt of Stony Point During the American Revolution on July 16, 1779. The Battle of Stony Point was an American victory of the American Revolutionary War
Vintage engraving showing the Assualt of Stony Point During the American Revolution on July 16, 1779. The Battle of Stony Point was an American victory of the American Revolutionary War.

As relations between the American colonies and their British masters went sour in the 1760s, many towns in the colonies formed militias to prepare themselves for the conflict expected to come. Bridgehampton, Southampton, Sag Harbor and East Hampton each formed militias, often numbering less than 100 young men each. They had no common uniforms and carried a variety of armaments. But when together to fight for freedom, they’d muster as 200 in a field off the Montauk Road in Bridgehampton, so for convenience sake were considered the Bridgehampton Militia.

In May 1775, a year before the Declaration of Independence was ratified, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia ordered the 200-man Bridgehampton Militia to fight the British at Fort Ticonderoga across from Lake Champlain. Commander in Chief George Washington feared the British would send a force down to New York City from Ticonderoga. And so he ordered numerous militias to attack the fort and overwhelm the redcoats there. It was a long trek, and when Bridgehampton got there, they found the Vermont Green Mountain Boys had already won the day. So the Bridgehampton Militia’s orders changed. Now they were to take the British prisoners down the Hudson to parade them before the next Continental Congress in Philadelphia, which they did.

In August 1776, the Bridgehampton militia was called again to fight in the Battle of Long Island. Washington had asked several dozen militias to build breastworks and hold a line that ran east-west across the center of Brooklyn. Here, with this ragtag army of 4,000, Washington hoped to defeat 32,000 redcoats already readying themselves on Staten Island. The Bridgehampton Militia’s assignment was the very eastern end of this line near Jamaica. Their job was to not only hold the line but also to herd nearby livestock further east so the British couldn’t get them.

Doing this, the militia moved further east, thus opening a small gap in Washington’s line at the Jamaica Plain. When the attack came, the bulk of the British Army marched through this gap and circled west to attack the rest of the American line from the rear. Washington, accepting defeat, ordered an immediate evacuation to Manhattan, accomplished by boats ferrying the soldiers in a deep fog across the East River.

Long Island thus fell to the British and nearly all the young men in the Bridgehampton Militia went home and soon left their families, escaping by boat to Connecticut where they were beyond the British grasp.

The Bridgehampton militia was activated once again in 1813 when the British, again at war with America, tried to set fire to Sag Harbor. The British men-o-war, anchored offshore for a week, finally sent boatloads of redcoats to Long Wharf at night to burn the ships there before moving up Main Street. The Bridgehampton Militia had evacuated many of the women and children to Bridgehampton ahead of time and the Sag Harbor Militia, firing a cannon accurately from atop Turkey Hill on High Street, drove the British off. The redcoats left in confusion, never to return.

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