John Mott of New Jersey in the Revolution

There were two Captain Motts from New Jersey in the Revolution. Two family traditions claim that "their" John Mott was at the Battle of Trenton. This paper examines the origins of those traditions and demonstrates that one was at Ticonderoga, the other at Trenton on Christmas, 1776. 

Sections on this page:
[Stryker's Entries in the Official Register]  [The Family Traditions]  
[John Mott at Ticonderoga during the Battle of Trenton[John Mott at the Battle of Trenton]

All my life I have heard the family legend of my ancestor, my Great, Great, Great Grandfather, John Mott, told by aunts and uncles. Setting out to document this legend provided me with, immediately, a serious stumbling block, namely that there appeared to be three John Mott's in the Revolution from the state of New Jersey. Two of them were Captains. They are claimed by distinct families in the D.A.R. Patriot Index, and based on certain genealogies of the families based on Bible records, it would appear that there were two distinct men named John Mott from New Jersey who served as Captains in the Revolution, although each family tradition claims the same patriot soldier.  These two family traditions are put side by side below for examination.  In blue is the the claim to the service record.  In >red are some striking inaccuracies in the account of Kate Mott. The task at hand it to separate their identities and their roles in the Revolution. First, however, is the published record of John Mott that both families claim.


David Hackett Fisher's new book (January, 2004, Oxford University Press) Washington's Crossing uses this page in his research. To see the page (and the footnote) where he recounts the Hessian home invasion click here

Given that the most complete published roster of officers from the New Jersey is Stryker's Official Register, published in 1872, both families turned to this work to claim their patriot ancestor.  


As for the service record itself, in the line Official Register of the Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Revolutionary War  compiled by William Stryker (Trenton, 1872, reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Company, Balt., 1967 LC #: 67-24883) John Mott is listed on the Official Roster of Continental Troops starting page 63 as:

Mott, John. First Lieutenant, Captain Patterson's company, Third Battalion, First Establishment, February 9th, 1776; Captain, Third Battalion, Second Establishment, November 29th, 1776; retired September 26th, 1780; also Captain, militia (p85).

Stryker's Official Register also contains, towards the end of the book, an Official Roster of State Troops and Militia where John Mott is listed thus:

Mott, John. Captain, First Regiment, Hunterdon; also Captain, Continental Army; guide to General Washington at the battle of Trenton.

I would suggest that Styker may have been confused, assuming only one Captain John Mott. 

Both family traditions claim this soldier, and both claim that he was in New Jersey in December of 1776, but a close examination of the service record of the Third Battalion, coupled with a personal diary written in the winter of 1776-7 by Ebenezer Elmer in Ticonderoga, N.Y.,  would indicate that this officer was in New York at the time of the Battle of Trenton. An examination of this is provided below, but first the traditions of the two families:

My family tradition: John Mott (1746 - 1823), son of Ebenezer, married third Naomi Daggett. Their eighth child was Mary Alma Mott Jones, the mother of Amanda Jones, who published the family tradition in the introduction to a book of hers published in 1910. 

Source: Jones, Amanda. A Psychic Autobiography (New York, Greaves Publishing, 1910):

Their son, my grandfather, John Mott, supposed himself to be a “Friend,” until about thirty years of age, although he had lost his “birth-right” by marrying out of the Society. It came about, however, that owing to this following circumstance, he became a fully accredited Revolutionary officer. One bitterly cold Sunday in December, 1776, John Mott was forced to defend his family (a wife and three children) from six marauding Hessian soldiers.They broke down the barricaded door with axes, but were without firearms, as was the case with my grandfather (unless, indeed, tongs and poker might be so classed).As a result three took to their heels, and the remaining three were cast out over the door-sill dead.One of the two little girls, hidden in the cellar, never forgot the tumult overhead – she living to be not much under a hundred.

The following morning John Mott went to General Washington’s camp, near the Delaware, and received from Washington’s “own hand” a lieutenant’s commission, authorizing him to organize a company of recruits for the Continental Army. This he did at once, equipping them at his own expense; and thereafter spent all his possessions in the service of his country throughout five years and eight months, till conclusion of peace.

Be it noted that his “saintly” mother, after having been taken by him through camp, humbly confessed that the “carnal heart took pride and rejoiced in the protection of a son who was tall and brave soldier.”The son would never apply for a pension, although forced to support his third family (a wife and eight children, of whom my mother was the youngest) by learning and practicing the tailor’s trade – nor yet in a beggarly way, for he had apprentices. Hale and unbowed at seventy-seven, he died, as did Washington, of quinsy and mismanagement.Shortly before his death his sons and others saw him crossing the Mohawk river on the string-pieces of a very long bridge in the process of building, but none dared follow.

The fact that his name does not appear on pension rolls makes it difficult to obtain a complete record of his services.* We know that he fought at Brandywine and at Germantown, and was much employed by Washington in secret service. He, himself, related to my mother (then a child of nine), the story of his pursuit and capture of a spy who was carrying important papers to the British.His older children stated that he never spoke of the three Hessians whom he was forced to kill, without tears, saying always that it seemed like murder.Yet after that, he fired with intent to kill, upon a Hessian soldier, who was flaying a live cow for meat, after a manner known to exist among his countrymen.(Pages 11-13)

*See Appendix I

 Appendix I (Page 428)

 By late advices from the War Department and from the New Jersey Adjutant-General, we learn that three men of the State, named John Mott, served in the War of the Revolution. The account given from both sources, of one of these three tallies with our family traditions so far as they extend.

This one “was appointed first lieutenant in Captain Thomas Paterson’s Company of Colonel Elias Dayton’s battalion of forces raised in New Jersey, February 8th, 1776, and re-engaged and promoted November 30, 1776. The records also show that one John Mott (the same) served as a Captain in the Third New Jersey Regiment, commanded by Colonel Elias Dayton, Revolutionary War.This name appears on the rolls of that organization, for the period from February 14, 1777, to February, 1779; which shows that he was commissioned November 30, 1776.”

My mother stated from remembrance of his conversation, that although persistently calling himself a Quaker, he had felt that when necessity should arise he must be ready to join in the defense of the State.This may account for the earlier lieutenancy; but if we have him rightly located, his term of army service, whether as Captain, private or secret and trusted agent, was exactly five years and eight months from the date of re-organization for active warfare.He was therefore one of the Continental Army, until the news arrived of the signing, at Paris, of the Treaty of Peace, when forces were mustered out.

My honored Cousin Wesley Mott, only son of my Mother’s brother, Mayhew Daggett Mott, writes to me of him:

“My own father has often told me about his terrible encounter with the six Hessian soldiers, and his going to Washington’s camp and accepting an appointment under him as lieutenant and afterward being engaged in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown. Your mother, when I visited her forty years ago (in 1867) told me many additional facts of great interest about grandfather Mott.

.” (Following are several non-Revolution related antidotes)
The other family tradition: John Mott (1734 - 1804?), son of William, married Eleanor (widow Johnson). Their first son, Gershom, had a son Gershom who became a Major General in the Civil War. He had only one child, Kate, who recorded the family tradition in a genealogy of the family published in the New England Historic Genealogy Society's Register in 1894

Detailed genealogy of the descent of Gershom Mott (d 1733), John Mott's Grandfather based.

Source: Mott, Kate A.,  "Descent of Major-General Gershom Mott, of New Jersey" (New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, April, 1894)

In the official records of the local military organizations of New Jersey John Mott is named on 9th February, 1776, as First Lieutenant in Captain Patterson’s Company in the Third Battalion (Stryker’s Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Revolutionary War), but it does not appear whether this was his first or second or third term of service.A little before this, on the 8th of December, 1775, the First and Second New Jersey Battalions had been ordered to New York. On the 3rd of May the Second and Third Battalions went up the Hudson in sloops, and thence to Ticonderoga as reinforcements of General Sullivan, who, after the retreat of the British from Boston on the 17th of March, 1776, had taken command of the army which had retreated from Quebec. As Lieutenant John Mott was in the Third Battalion he was probably in this expedition. The New Jersey battalions were successively in Johnstown, German Flats, Fort Schuyler, Fort Dayton, and Ticonderoga and Fort Independence.They were chiefly engaged in preventing Indian incursions. But they all returned in time to take part in the campaign in New Jersey in the autumn and winter of 1776-77 (See below).

…(Paragraph skipped)

But meantime a new army was being organized. New recruits were brought in, enlistments were made for longer terms or “for the war” instead of for the previous short dated, and Congress on the 12th of December gave Washington full power relative to the army. Lieutenant Mott and his comrades under Sullivan had just return from Ticonderoga.In the new organization of the New Jersey troops, John Mott was made captain of the Fifth Company in the Third Battalion (19th November 1776), and now the four New Jersey battalions constituted the “New Jersey Line” or Maxwell’s Brigade.

  But here, near his old home, Captain Mott’s local knowledge made him of great service as Washington’s guide, in planning and conducting a new attack upon the British in Trenton. Other farmers of the neighborhood were also called in. On the 20th of December General Sullivan arrived with troops from near Morristown.On the 25th, in the night, General Washington recrossed the Delaware and marched on Trenton,.Captain Mott in the darkness of the morning carried a fusee on his shoulder to light General Washington. The weather was stormy, and after they had marched about three miles the Captain said to General Sullivan that the priming powder in the muskets was becoming damp.. Sullivan replied: "Well, boys, we must fight them with the bayonet."  When Washington heard this he said:  "Tell tem to use the bayonet, and to penetrate the town, for the town must be taken!  I am resolved to take it!"  As is well known he took the town and captured a thousand Hessian prisoners.

Captain John Mott can be traced during the remainder of the war in the “New Jersey Line” or Maxwell’s Brigade. On the 11th of September, 1777, they opened the battle of Brandywine and afterward encamped near Germantown and formed the reserve corps and left wing at the battle of Germantown….

As to the whereabouts of the Third Battalion , and it's Lieutenant Mott of the New Jersey Line during the Battle of Trenton, we can turn to four sources, the muster roll of the Third Battalion, Stryker, The US Army's Lineage Series, and the Diary of Ebenezer Elmer. 

First, the muster roll and the compiled service record place him at Ticonderoga:

The compiled service record at the right:

I have a copy of the muster roll, which, hopefully, I can reproduce here at some point.

The second is the aforementioned Stryker's Official Register when he examines the Establishments of the New Jersey Line. This record is quoted by Ms. Kate Mott, but she evidently overlooks the passage that the Third Battalion did not leave Albany until March 7th, 1777 when she states "But they all returned in time to take part in the campaign in New Jersey in the autumn and winter of 1776-77."

First Establishment of Troops of the "Jersey Line":In October of 1775 the Cont. Congress called for the two battalions of men from New Jersey. The NJ provincial congress responded with an East and West Battalions and the Cont. Congress approved the appointment of officers on Nov. 7th, 1775 as the First and Second Battalions. A Third Battalion was formed later. (p12) The authority for the formation of the Third Battalion was given in a minute of the Cont. Congress session of Jan. 10, 1776. On the same day the NJ Provincial Congress nominated the officers who were appointed by the Cont. Congress Feb. 9th (Stryker, p20)

Third Battalion was commanded by Col. Elias Dayton. Second Company, 3rd Battalion was commanded by Capt. James Patterson, John Mott, 1st Lt. (Stryker, p20)

Four of the companies, on being organized, were stationed at Staten Island, and the other four at Amboy, NJ. After being joined at Elizabeth on April. 28th, they sailed in sloops for Albany on the 3rd of May. Col. Dayton reported there to Brigadier Gen. John Sullivan of NH. During the remainder of the year, they were stationed at Johnstown, German Flats, Fort Dayton, Fort Schuyler, Ticonderoga and Mt. Independence. They were chiefly engaged in preventing incursions of Indians. The battalion left Albany March 7th, 1777, and was discharged at Morristown, NJ, on the 23rd of the same month. (Stryker, p23)

Third, the US Army Lineage Series confirms Stryker's record of the Third:  


Authorized 10 January 1776 in the Continental Army as the 3d New Jersey Regiment and assigned to the New York (subsequently Middle) Department. Organized 7 February-18 May 1776 at Elizabethtown, to consist of eight companies. Relieved 14 March 1776 from the Middle Department and assigned to the Main Army. 
Assigned 24 April 1776 to Stirling's Brigade, an element of the Main Army. 
Relieved 27 April 1776 from Stirling's Brigade and assigned to the Northern Department. 
Relieved 1 March 1777 from the Northern Department and assigned to the Main Army.
Assigned 22 May 1777 to the New Jersey Brigade, an element of the Main Army. 
Reorganized 7 February 1779 to consist of nine companies. 
Disbanded I January 1781 at Pompton. 

(Wright, Robert K., The Continental Army, Army Lineage Series, Center of Military History, US Army, Washington, D. C., 1989, p 255) - 

The fourth, and perhaps the most conclusive evidence that our soldier of record was not at the Battle of Trenton is the Diary of Ebenezer Elmer, another young patriot who was raised in the same regiment, or battalion as they were sometimes called, Colonel Elias Dayton's Third. Extracts of the Journal were printed by the New Jersey Historical Society in the late 1840's, and they include the following passages that mention Lt. Mott:

[Ticonderoga, NY]
"Sunday,Jan 19th, 1777 ....News of the success of Gen. Washington over the enemy in the Jersey's, for which the regiment was called out together and informed....

Thursday, January 23rd, 1777, .....The above was verified, for about 10 o'clock Lt. Mott and Ensign Stout, the effectives of Capt. Patterson's Company, came down with orders from Major Barber to take post on board...."

Also another reference to Lt. Mott in February.

The Journal of Lieutenant Ebenezer Elmer of the Third Regiment of the New Jersey Troops in the Continental Service (Extracts printed from the original manuscript by the New Jersey Historical Society in its Proceedings of...Vol III, page 56)

Also examined is the War Journal of Joseph Bloomfield. Bloomfield was an officer in the Third Battalion and left Ticonderoga for New Jersey on the same day as the Battle of Trenton, December 25, 1776. His journal includes this passage:

"Wednesday. 6. [November]. Mounted the Main-Guard in Montcalm's fortress.Lieut. Mott & Ensn. Kinney Subalterns. Col Roberts Field officer of the day. Nothing Material. Sett up all Night."

Citizen Soldier,The Revolutionary War Journal of Joseph Bloomfield, ed. by Mark E. Lender and James Kirby Martin(New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, 1982)

There are, then, accounts that put Captain Mott at the Battle of Trenton. Washington Crossing
Letter Image     Letter from Philemon Dickinson to George Washington December 24, 1776 (450+K jpeg)

Transcription (HTML)

Transcription (Word2K Doc)

This letter refers to Capt Mott being sent over to the New Jersey shore to scout. There is no mention of a first name.

In Styker's book, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, he clearly places John Mott at the Battle of Trenton as a Captain:

"Tradition gives us the names of some of the prominent men of Hopewell Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey, who did good service on that eventful night. Among these were.....Captain John Mott, formerly of the same organization (First regiment, Hunterdon County militia), but then recruiting of the New Jersey Continental line..." (note, page 138),

The legendary "We must fight them with our Bayonets!"

"Before they reached Birmingham, Captain John Mott, a gallant officer, who had come from the Northern army with Maxwell and St. Claire to recruit men for the new establishment of the New Jersey Continental line, but who had volunteered to guide the troops on a road on which he himself lived, being armed with a fusee, and walking in advance of the line, found that his priming powder was damp, although he had covered it with his handkerchief.  He mentioned the fact to General Sullivan, who, finding that all the arms were in more or less the same condition, called out, 'Well, boys, we must fight them with the bayonet!'" (page 140)

A reference to a very curious entry in the Hessian patrol report of December 26th:

"The only semblance of a patrol on December 26 was made about five o'clock in the morning by three yagers, who went as far up the river as the house of Captain John Mott of the New Jersey Continental line, - the "rebel captain's house," as the German records call it, now on the ground owned by the New Jersey Hospital for the Insane, on the west bank of the water power. They returned with the report that they had not seen any of the enemy." (page 146)


For an excellent online account of the Battle of Trenton that draws heavily from Stryker's book, see the history that has been published online by the Old Mill Society at The Two Battles of Trenton. This chapter in the 1929 History of Trenton by various authors, mentions Captain Mott as having informed General Sullivan that the priming powder was getting wet, leading to General Sullivan's somewhat legendary declaration that "we must fight them with the bayonet." (Source was no doubt Sryker...see above quote from page 140 of The Battles of Trenton and Princeton.

References to the New Jersey Militia and Units of the Continental Line at the Battle of Trenton from Stryker

In conclusion  it would seem that a number of hypothesis could be invented to explain who was who and where during the Battle of Trenton. But until careful examination of the Compiled Service Records, muster rolls and payrolls can be examined, they would only remain hypothesis. Even then, one may never learn the truth. There is confusion generated by the family genealogists and the "official registrars". Even at the time,  the guy who was marching next to "Captain Mott" on that cold Christmas Day north of Trenton in 1776 probably didn't know who his companion's father or wife was.


My thanks to the David Library of the American Revolution for help in locating John Mott in Ticonderoga. I just wish I lived nearer that library!