General Woodhull Colonial Hero

Footnotes to Long Island History

General Woodhull, Colonial Hero


Thomas R. Bayles

General Nathaniel Woodhull of Long Island is captured by British Dragoons at Jamaica, Queens, 1776.

     No town in the province of New York furnished more prominent men to the cause of American independence than did Brookhaven Town. Among these was Gen. Nathaniel Woodhull, who was one of the first notable martyrs in the revolution.

                Gen. Woodhull was born at Mastic December 30, 1722. his wife was a sister of General. William Floyd. In 1769 during the continuance of the colonial government was a faithful advocate of the faithful wishes of his constituents of Suffolk county for the preservation of their freedom and the command over their own purses.  Col. Woodhull was at the head of the delegation from  Suffolk county in the first provincial congress which met in New York May 22, 1775 and on the 28th of August following he was elected president of the body. He was re elected to the same position in 1776. the congress of 175 reorganized the militia of the colony and appointed Col. Woodhull brigadier general of the militia of Suffolk and Queens counties.

                On the 10th of august, 1776, General Woodhull left his seat in the provincial congress, then in session at white plains, to take an a active part in the military operations then being commenced upon long island. While waiting at Jamaica for reinforcements to assist in the collecting and driving eastward the cattle on the western part f the island, so as to secure them from the reach of the enemy, he was over taken by a party of British troops and made a prisoner. The officer who first approached him ordered him to say "God save the king" and the general replied " god save us all" after which the officer attacked him with his broad sword and would have killed him on the spot but for the interference of another officer of more humanity and honor. The general was badly wounded in the head and one of his arms was mangled from the shoulder to the wrist. He was taken to the old stone church in Jamaica where his wounds were dressed and the next day was confined in a vessel at Gravesend which had no provisions for medical attention and was transferred to a house near the church in the New Utrecht where he was permitted to receive some medical attention.

                He sent for his wife with the request that she should bring with her all the money that she had. which she did and the general had it distributed among the American prisoners to relieve their sufferings, thus furnishing a lesson of humanity to his captors and closing a useful life by an a act of charity. It was found necessary to amputate his arm after this was done infection set in, resulting in his death on the 20th of september,1776.

                The talents of general Woodhull were adapted to the military operation. With personal courage he possessed judgment, decision and firmness of character which commanded the respect of his troops. He had more military experience than most of the early officers of the revolutionary army and no one in this state, at the time, promised to make a better officer.

                 The nature of the work assigned to him at the time of his capture, and the force placed under his command were both unworthy of his military abilities.

                The following Quotations are from Silas Wood's History of Long Island (1828):

                    "Te capture of General Woodhull was one of the most calamitous events of that disastrous period. It deprived the country of the talents, the experience and counsels of one of the ablest and most patriotic of her citizens. the cruel and dastardly treatment of a prisoner, especially of his rank and character, after a peaceable surrender, raised a spirit of indignation in the breast of every honest man.

                "General Woodhull Was as much  distinguished for his private and domestic virtues as for his zeal for the rights of his country and was held in the highest estimation by all those who enjoyed his society. His death spread a gloom over Long Island and was universally lamented by the friends of freedom; and whiles the American revolution continues to be a subject of gratitude with the people of long island his memory will be cherished among their fondest recollections."

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