Hay Burning


Burning of the Hay at Coram, by Alvin Smith, original located at the Thomas R. Bayles History Room, Longwood Public Library, Middle Island, NY, Photo Courtesy of Davis Erhardt Collection


One of the most daring exploits of the Revolution in Brookhaven Town was planned and carried Out by Major Benjamin Tallmadge in November 1780. This was the burning of the 300 ton stack of hay at Coram, which had been collected by the British, and the capture of Fort St. George at Smith Point Mastic, which had been constructed by the British. It had strongly barricaded houses at two angles, and the third angle was a fort 96 feet square.

Evidently General George Washington considered the burning of the hay at Coram to have been more important than the capture of the fort at Mastic.

Back at Fairfield, Tallmadge wrote to Washington, telling him of the luscious plum, and knowing his cavalry-conscious commander, clinched the matter by mention of a British forage collection point at Coram. It lay only a little off the route to Smith's Point. In a few days he had his answer.

November 11, th, 1780
Sir: - I have received your letter of the 7th instant. The destruction of the forage collected for the use of the British army at Coram upon Long Island is of much consequence that I should advise the attempt to be made. I have written to Col. Sheldon to furnish you a detachment of dismounted dragoons, and will commit the execution to you. If the party at Smith's house can be attempted without frustrating the other design, or running to great a hazard, I have no objection. But you must remember that this is only a secondary object, and in all cases, you will take the most prudent means to secure a retreat. Confiding entirely in your prudence as well as enterprise, and wishing you success.

I am yours and c.,
G. Washington"

Major Tallmadge left Fairfield, Conn., at 4 o'clock in the afternoon on Nov. 21, with 80 men in 8 open whale boats. They rowed across the sound and landed at Mt. Sinai Harbor, near Cedar Beach, about 9 o'clock that night. A hard rainstorm came on so they had to take shelter under their boats and stay until the next night, when they marched across the island to Mastic. They arrived within two miles of the fort by 3 o'clock in the morning and divided the troops into three companies so as to make attacks on the fort from three directions.

Major Tallmadge led the main company and they were not discovered by the enemy until they were within 20 yards of the fort. They rushed in with their bayonets and captured the fort without firing a single shot. At the same time, the other two companies mounted the fort and a chorus of "Washington" and "Glory" went up. Just then the British opened fire from one of the barricaded houses nearby where their men were hidden. A sharp gun battle took place for a short time and Tallmadge's men drove the British from the house.

Tallmadge picked 12 men for the Coram raid, among them, Brewster and Jackson. They were mounted on horses captured at the fort, and rode off ahead of the prisoner caravan. They turned away from the River road at Millville (Yaphank), and riding through the oak forest that covered the middle of the island, they soon reached Coram, where they quickly put to rout the small forage guard. The 300 tons of hay made a fine blaze and soon they were on their way to Old Man's (Mt. Sinai) Harbor where they joined up with the main detachment and prisoners. As the November darkness approached they were soon afloat in their boats, passing through an opening at the east end of Old Man's Harbor, which has long since filled in, and began their long row across the Sound in the darkness to Fairfield, arriving there about 11, p.m. In a little over 30 hours the expedition had covered about 40 miles on land and 20 on water.

Washington was so pleased with the results of the expedition that he sent the following letter of commendation to major Talmadge.

"Morristown, November 28, 1780

Dear Sir:,
Both your letters of the 25th came to my hand this day. I received with much pleasure the report of your successful enterprise upon Fort St. George and the vessel with stores in the Harbour, and was particularly well pleased with the destruction of the Hay which must I should conceive, be severely felt by the Enemy at this time.

I beg of you to accept my thanks for your judicious planning and spirited execution of this business and that you will offer them to officers and men who shared the honors of the Enterprise with you. - The gallant behavior of Mr. Muirson gives him a fair claim to an appointment in the 2nd Regim't. of Dragoons or any other of the state to which he belongs, where there is a vacancy and I have no doubt of his meeting with it accordingly if you will make known his merit with these sentiments in his favor.

You have my free consent to reward your gallant party, with the little booty they were able to bring from the Enemy's works. With much esteem and regard I am
Your Most Obedient Servant
G. Washington

The British account gives the following in the Pennsylvania Packet, December 12th:

"A party of rebels, about eighty in number, headed, it is said, by a rebel, Major Talmadge, assisted by a certain Heatheast, Muirson, Benjah Strong, Thomas Jackson and Caleb Brewster, officers belonging to said party, all formerly of Long Island, came across in eight whale-boats, etc., just after daylight arrived at Smith's Point, St. George's Manor, south side Long Island, where they surprised a respectable body of refugees belonging to Rhode Island and the vicinity , who were establishing a post in order to get a subsistence for themselves and families, etc."

Although the attack on Fort St. George is very interesting and much emphasized in the history of Brookhaven Town, it should be noted and realized that the destruction of the large forage of hay at Coram was the primary object of the expedition.

Maj. Tallmadge retired from the army with the rank of Colonel. He married on March 16, 1784, Mary Floyd, daughter of William Floyd, Signer of the Declaration. He died March 7, 1835 at Litchfield, Conn., where he is buried.

Click here to see Caleb Brewster's letter to Major Tallmadge.

Click here to see a copy of the bill for hay purchased by the British.

Click here to see a copy of items taken by the British from the Stills.

Click here to see Major Tallmadge's report of the raid.

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