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Engraving of the Battle of Long Island, or Brooklyn: The Americans lost the confrontation, but Haslet's 'Fighting Delawares' became heroes here. (National Archives)
Col. John Haslet

Minister, Doctor And Soldier, Haslet Led 'Fighting Delawares' Through Revolution's Battlefields

Studying for the ministry may not seem like proper preparation for leading men into battle. But it was a Presbyterian minister, Col. John Haslet, who ably commanded Delaware's only regiment of the Revolutionary War.

Haslet was born in Londonderry, Ireland, where he studied for the ministry. Around 1757, Haslet emigrated to Delaware and took up residence in Dover, where he practiced medicine in addition to his ministry. A staunch Whig and a fine leader, he was chosen to head the Delaware Regiment created by Congress on Dec. 9, 1775.

Delaware had participated in the colonial wars and possessed a well-organized militia, including the likes of Haslet, who had commanded the Kent County Militia. The Delaware Regiment was not only available and ready to march; they were also, according to some sources, the best-equipped and best-uniformed unit in the army of 1776. In their distinctive "short blue jackets, lined and faced with red" and "small round caps of black jacked leather" the "Fighting Delawares" were ready to face their enemy.

This they did, early and bravely. Haslet brought his regiment to New York State for the Battle of Brooklyn, also known as the Battle of Long Island, in the summer of 1776. After the early scuffles for freedom, the Patriots had organized and declared their independence, and Gen. George Washington had set up camp in Manhattan. The Battle of Brooklyn was the first real theater of war in the American Revolution, and troops there experienced all the drama of combat. While Washington had 20,000 soldiers at his disposal and had built reinforcements such as the famous Battery of cannons, the British flotilla that arrived in New York Harbor in late July was much larger.

When the British, under Gen. Howe, began to move, there was little that could be done. However, near Brooklyn's western shore, Haslet's Delawares and their neighbors, Col. Smallwood's Marylanders, were fighting so valiantly that they amazed the redcoats. Even when surrounded by British grenadiers and the Scottish Black Watch, these two Mid-Atlantic regiments rallied until Gen. William Alexander ordered a withdrawal.

Those who escaped fled under grapeshot and heavy musket fire, through a swamp and a creek to safety. While 300 of the 400 Marylanders died, only 31 of Haslet's troops perished. Haslet continued to lead his fine unit, including just 100 men at the Battle of Trenton, until their enlistments expired. After Haslet himself was killed in the Battle of Princeton on Jan. 3, 1777, his remaining officers were so demoralized that they never again raised their regimental colors.

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