Patron Saint of the Revolutionary Period
Few women of the Revolution were called upon to suffer more from fear and anxiety or to endure more of the annoyances that come from living in the country overrun by a ruthless and domineering enemy, than the wife of Colonel Jacob Mersereau, of Staten Island. Colonel Mersereau was one of the five sons of Joshua and Maria Corsen Mersereau, a family of Hugeunot descent which was highly prominent in the latter part of the eighteenth century, and especially during the Revolutionary War. Joshua Mersereau, Jr., the oldest son was a member of the Provincial Congress or Assembly, from Richmond County (Staten Island), almost continuously from 1777 until 1786 and the other brothers were all soldiers in the Revolutionary War.
Staten Island during that period has been described as “a nest of Tories,” and it is known that General Washington so regarded it, but the statement is only a half truth. There were undoubtedly many loyalists on Staten Island as there were on Manhattan, but the people were in the main disposed to the patriotic cause. Soon after the British were driven from Boston they had massed upwards of thirty thousand troops on Staten Island, which they deemed admirably fitted for a basis of future operations.
In order to conciliate the loyalists General Howe appointed De Lancey and Skinner of New York and New Jersey, brigadier-generals, and Christopher Billop of Staten Island, as a colonel of Tory troops to be raised. Proclamations were issued promising protection to the people so long as they remained peaceably at home and manifested no sympathy for the rebels or their cause. Misled by these specious promises, hundreds of the Whig inhabitants of Staten Island remained peaceably at home, only to have troops quartered upon them, their farms and barns looted repeatedly, their cattle and horses driven off, their churches burned,m their wives and daughters insulted or outraged, and any remonstrance only met by insult or personal injury. The treatment of the British soon alienated whatever feeling of loyalty any of the inhabitants left on the island may have felt at the beginning of the struggle.
But the Mersereaus were not of this time-serving stock. Col. Jacob Mersereau lived in an old stone house (which is still standing) near the present village of Graniteville. Soon after the war broke out, he became a marked man and fled to New Jersey, where he made his quarters for several years; he occasionally made a stealthy visit to his family, and upon one of these occasions he had a narrow escape from capture.
Clute, in his Annals of Staten Island, tells of the incident: “Having crossed the Sound and concealed his boat, Mersereau took his course for home across the fields, avoiding the public roads as much as possible. It was while crossing a road from one field to another that he was met by a young man whom he knew well but as neither spoke he imagined that the young man did not know him; in this however, he was mistaken for he was recognised [sic] at once. There was no British post just then nearer than Richmond and thither the young Tory hastened and informed the commanding officer, probably Colonel Simcoe, but it was near daylight in the morning before the party set out.
“They were in no haste, for they supposed Mersereau intended to remain concealed at home during the day. The family, as was their custom, had arisen early, but the soldiers were not discovered until within a few rods of the house. The alarm was immediately given, and the approaching party made a rush; as they reached the door, the Colonel sprang out of the upper, northwest window of his house upon a shed beneath it and to the ground. A few rods west of the house is a small elevation and it was thence while crossing this that he was discovered. On the other side of the hill was a hedgerow, terminating at a deep swamp, along which he ran on all fours to keep himself out of sight until he reached the swamp, in the middle of which he found a place of concealment.
“When he was discovered crossing the hill those who had begun a search within were called out and pursuit was made, but when the top of the hill was reached, the Colonel was nowhere to be seen. The swamp was discovered and it was at once concluded that he was there concealed, but as the pursuers were ignorant of its intricacies they could proceed no farther. Dogs were then put upon the track which they followed to the edge of the swamp. Here the pursuit terminated and the Colonel, after remaining concealed the whole day, escaped during the following night to New Jersey.”
For more than a week after that, a constant watch was kept on the house and its inmates, day and night, during which time the members of the family dared to be found even looking toward the swamp. It was nearly a week before they were assured of the Colonel’s safety.
We do not know of the specific annoyances suffered by Mrs. Mersereau, during all that long period in which her husband could only visit his home surreptitiously, but can only conjecture.
Colonel Mersereau died in 1804, only a few months after the death of his next older brother Joshua. In his will, proved September 18th of that year, he speaks of his wife Charity and his children John, and Mary, wife of Thomas Cubberly; Elizabeth, wife of Daniel De Hart; Sophia, wife of John Crocheron; Jacob, David, and Peter. The oldest son John was by a former wife. All the sons were prominent citizens of Staten Island for many years, and two of them served terms in the Assembly. Of Charity, their mother, all records seem to have been lost and only family traditions remain.
Reference: The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. Third Volume, Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.