Colonel John Haslet (1727 - 1777)

John Haslet was born in Dungiven, Co Derry  Ireland in 1727, the first of six children born to  Joseph Haslet and Ann Dykes Haslet. 
John's father was a merchant and tenant farmer who probably managed to provide a decent standard of living for his family.  The Haslets  were of Presbyterian stock whose ancestors settled in Ulster sometime during the Plantation of Ireland(1) which spanned the 16th  and 17th centuries.

After completing his early education in Ireland he went on to study at the University of Glasgow where, in 1749, he earned a Masters Degree in Divinity .  He was licensed by the Derry Presbytery in 1750, and ordained a minister in 1752. He married Shirley Stirling in 1750 who died a few year later during the birth of their daughter.

During his years in Ireland, Haslet witnessed the plight of his Catholic neighbors who were subjected to a series of draconian and repressive measures collectively known as the Penal Laws. Provision of these laws denied Catholics the right to practice their religion, denied them the right to an education, prevented them from owning  property or holding office and barred them from any undertaking that would improve their lot. Presbyterians did not fare much better. They were subjected to many of the same provisions of the Penal Laws as their Catholic neighbors.  

As a consequence,  there was an exodus of Scotch -Irish to America in the latter half of the 18th century. Haslet joined the exodus arriving in America circa 1757. He settled in  and shortly afterwards was commissioned a Captain in the Pennsylvania Militia.  He served in the French and Indian War and was a participant in the expedition that captured Fort Duquesne in 1758. 

Many of those Scotch-Irish who fled Ireland wound up in in the ranks of Washington's Continental army. The unintended consequence for England was that their former victims contributed enormously in both talent and manpower to their defeat by the Continental army primarily made up of rebellious subjects from their colonies augmented by unforgiving former Irish victims.  Haslet's participation played no small role in that outcome.

After his service in the Pennsylvania militia ended he relocated to Milford in Delaware where he served as a Presbyterian minister and also as a medical doctor. Being a leading proponent of Independence and a passionate advocate of individual freedom he was appointed a colonel by the Continental Congress in 1775 and charged with raising the Delaware Regiment to fight for independence alongside patriots from the other colonies.

In the Summer of 1776 when Haslet brought his newly formed regiment to New York State for the Battle of Brooklyn, also known as the Battle of Long Island, he had more than 800 men under his command.  During the ensuing battle, the Delaware regiment fought alongside the Maryland regiment under the command of Brigadier General William Alexander. They were given the task of holding the Gowanus Road on the far right of the Continental Army line.  They did their job well and held the British army at bay long enough to allow the Continental army sufficient time to retreat and avoid destruction by the much  larger and battle hardened British army.  Haslet was fearless in leading his men during the fighting and held his ground until ordered to withdraw by General  Alexander.  During the battle and the bloody retreat that followed the Maryland regiment lost up to 400 men; Delaware fared much better losing only 31.

After the defeat in Brooklyn the Continentals moved north through Manhattan engaging the pursuing British in numerous battles and skirmishes including encounters at Kips Bay, Harlem Heights, New Rochelle, White Plains and Fort Washington in upper Manhattan. With the exception of a victory of sorts at Harlem Heights the Continentals were no match for the better equipped and battle hardened English army.  Haslet and his men, who were engaged in all of these battles, took heavy losses and by the time they reached Pennsylvania the regiment was reduced to 100 men.

After fleeing across New Jersey during the month of November, the Continentals, including what was left of Haslet's regiment, crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania to escape the pursuing British army.  At that point the British gave up the chase and returned to Manhattan to wait out the Winter months.  Washington, anticipating the British would assume that the Continentals ware  immobilized in Pennsylvania for the Winter months, decided to attack the British garrison in Trenton, New Jersey.  He crossed the Delaware River during the night of December 25 and attacked the garrison on the morning of December 26, 1776. The ensuing Continental victory was a turning point in the war. Haslet and his remaining men were in the forefront of that battle.

After their victory at Trenton, Washington and his army returned to Pennsylvania, but not for long. On the night of December 29, they returned to New Jersey to attack the British garrison in Princeton. On January 2, 1777 on the way to Princeton, they engaged a contingent of British troops in Trenton in what is referred to as the second Battle of Trenton. During the night, after the fighting had ended for the day unbeknownst to the British, Washington left his position and headed north to engage the British garrison at Princeton leaving a few hundred men behind to man fires as a diversionary tactic.  

It was during the ensuing Battle of Princeton on January 3 that Haslet was shot through the head and killed.  As second in command to General Mercer he had just taken command after Mercer was killed.  Notwithstanding the loss of both Mercer and Haslet the Continentals won the day and forced Cornwallis, the commanding British General, to abandon his remaining outposts in New Jersey and retreat to New Brunswick

Colonel John Haslet's was buried  in the grounds of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By an act of the Delaware Legislature  his remains were disinterred, brought back to Delaware accompanied by a military escort,  and on July 3, 1841reinterred in its final resting place in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Dover, Delaware . 



(1) The purpose of the Plantation of Ireland  was to confiscate the lands and property of native Irish Catholics and give it to Scottish, Welsh and English colonists.  The so-called  plantation, which today would be classified as attempted genocide or at least as  ethnic cleansing, began during the reign of Henry VIII and continued under Mary I and Elizabeth I.   The pace accelerated under James I and Charles I.  The final official plantations took place under Cromwell during the 1650's after the English Civil War, when thousands of Parliamentarian soldiers were settled in Ireland. 

(2) The Penal Laws (1704 - 1793) whose object was to (1) to deprive the Catholics of all civil life (2)to reduce them to a condition of ignorance and (3) to dissociate them from the soil.  These draconian and repressive laws originally directed at the native Irish were amended over time to curb the growing influence of the Presbyterians whose loyalty to the realm was suspect.  The lot of the Presbyterians worsened over time and by the middle of the 19th century their plight culminated in the Young Ireland Uprising of 1848. when they joined forces with the Catholics in an unsuccessful attempt to break free of England


Contributed by;  Tomás Ó Coısdealha

cemetery AND grave location

Name:     Old Presbyterian Cemetery                                      PHONE NO.  

ADDRESS:   South Governor’s Avenue, Dover, Delaware  19904




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 Posted 03/05/2009   Rev. 01/10/2018