Date of Award
Master of Arts in History
William D. Metz
The control of the Hudson River was of utmost importance to both the British an the Americans during the Revolution. If the British had been able to gain unopposed navigation on the river, they could have split the colonies in half. Cooperation between the Northern colonies and the Southern colonies would have ended and Washington would have been unable to obtain much needed supplies from the north. In order to protect the river, forts were built in 1776 on the New Jersey and Westchester sides of the Hudson to stop British navigation and a defensive line was established across Westchester county, anchoring on the Hudson River at Peekskill and Long Island Sound at Stamford. The Westchester Lines protected the forts on the Westchester shore from flanking attacks and thus were vitally important to the entire scheme.
The British were left with no defensive position near the American lines and were forced to retreat to Manhattan Island. This left an area of forty-five miles between the lines that was unoccupied. This are became known as the Neutral Ground and included most of the central and southern sections of Westchester. The area became important to both armies as a source of food and information.
Washington desired the American Lines to be used not only as a defensive position, but as a base for raiding the British posts. He hoped through these raids to force His Majesty’s forces in New York to maintain large numbers of troops to protect the city. In order to do this the British would have to forego offensive operations in other areas and the American Army would not have to be split into many groups to stop numerous offensives.
The American troops serving on the Westchester Lines came from all over the country, but few of them were natives of Westchester. In order to carry out the offensive operations and gather information and supplies, natives of Westchester were hired by Continental and militia units to act as scouts and guides. These civilians became known as the Mounted Guides and served in three capacities. They were guides, taking units of State or Continental troops through the Neutral Ground; they were scouts, patrolling in front of the lines to warn of the approach of any hostile force; and they were superintendents of forage, leading expeditions into the Neutral Ground in search of food that could be used by the troops. Twenty-five men served as guides during the war, some for short periods, others served for the duration. They were first recruited in January 1777, and some of the Guides continued to serve until November 1783.
Perhaps because they never constituted an organized unit little has been written about these men. This study is an attempt to establish the role played by the Guides in the Revolution, by examining their activities in scouting, guiding, and protecting the Lines. The history of their work during the war is traced from the activation of the group until Washington’s entrance into New York City.
Browne, George W., "The Role of the Westchester Guides During the American Revolution" (1962). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 2061.