Brigadier General Stephen Moylan (1734 - 1811)

Stephen Moylan was born in Cork City, Co. Cork, Ireland in 1734, the first of four children born to John Moylan and his first wife Mary Ann Doran. John Moylan had four other children with his second wife, Alicia Joyce.

The Moylans were prosperous merchants as were the Dorans. Under normal circumstances that would have afforded their children access to the best schools in Ireland except for the fact that the British backed Penal Laws enacted by the parliament of the Protestant Ascendency in Ireland barred Catholics from participation in all aspects of civil life including education.

The stated intent of these laws, which were primarily directed at the native Catholic population was to, 1) deprive the native Catholics of all civil life, 2) reduce them to a condition of ignorance and, 3) to dissociate them from the soil.  These repressive and draconian laws, originally directed at the catholic population, were amended over time to curb the growing influence of the Presbyterians whose loyalty to the realm was suspect. 

According to Edmund Burke(1) the Penal Laws were "a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man."

Catholic families who managed to prosper despite these repressive laws, surreptitiously sent their children to France and other European countries to be educated. The Moylan's followed suit and sent their children to France where a maternal uncle Fr. Patrick Doran. was a member of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) at Toulouse. In all probability Stephen and his brother Francis, who were educated by the Jesuits in Paris, were helped by their uncle overcome any difficulty or obstacle they encountered during their student days in France.

After completing his education, Stephen was sent to Portugal where he worked in the Moylan family trading business. By the time he left Lisbon circa 1765 he was well versed in the workings of the trading and shipping business; knowledge be put to good use in the American colonies where he was destined to spend the rest of his life. 
Not to many Irish Catholics, rich or poor, harbored any loyalty or respect for England, its Monarchy or its Protestant parliament in Ireland.  Those who could left their homeland to escape the oppression and hopelessness wrought by the Penal Laws. Although well off compared to the population as a whole Moylan, nonetheless, set sail for the American colonies hoping to find the freedom and space to live a full and productive life.

Moylan  arrived in the colonies in 1768 and settled in Philadelphia in the Province of Pennsylvania the favored destination for Catholic and other religious and political dissenters from Europe. The Province of Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, a English Quaker, in 1682.  In  keeping with Quaker traditions of pacifism, social equality, integrity and religious freedom, Penn structured the governance of the Province accordingly.

At the time of Moylan's arrival, the City of Philadelphia had a thriving seaport. More than likely the Moylan family  had ongoing business interests or partners already operating in the City. His immediate acceptance by the City's social elite would indicate that he did not arrive there unknown, without means or business contacts. As early as November of 1869 the Registry of Vessels at the port of Philadelphia listed Moylan as the owner of a merchant vessel. In subsequent years he was listed as a co-owner and also part-owner of other merchant vessels that sailed the trading routes between the American colonies, Europe and the Caribbean.

On St. Patrick's Day 1771, Moylan together with a number of other prominent merchants of Irish descent founded 'The Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick' whose purpose was to assist immigrants from Ireland. Moylan was elected its first President, despite the fact that he was only one of the three Catholics amongst its 24 founding members and six honorary member.  Many of its  members, including Moylan, featured prominently in the American Revolutionary War.  Later in 1781, the same members contributed 35% of the funds raised by Robert Morris to establish the Bank of North America to provide for the needs of the Continental Army.  Morris was one of the organizations first honorary member. George Washington was made an honorary member in 1781.

During the early years 1770's tensions between England and its American colonies gradually increased and in April of 1775 culminated in armed conflict at the Battles of Concord and Lexington and the ensuing Siege of Boston.

In July of 1775 during the Siege, Moylan was appointed  "Muster-Master General" of the "Army of the United Colonies" by General George Washington,  on the recommendation of  John Dickinson, the first honorary member of 'The Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick' .

Moylan's first task was to determine how many men were actually available and the condition of their equipment and training.  He went about that task by working with company and regimental commanders by devising  methods and procedures to accurately determine and keep track of troop numbers and equipment. 

After reporting on the state of the Army's manpower and equipment Moylan and Colonel John Glover(2)  were ordered by Washington "to secure and outfit two armed vessels" capable of  intercepting and seizing British merchant vessels and their cargoes. The orders from Washington stated that the vessels were to be acquired by any means possible even if it meant "hiring" the vessels. Despite procurement and manpower problems, Moylan and Glover outfitted , not two, but seven vessels (privateers).  To facilitate the sale of the cargoes captured by the  privateers Moylan appointed officials in a number of seaport towns to find buyers for the 'spoils of war'.

These privateers were operating on the high seas before the Lexington, the first warship of the Continental Navy, sailed down the Delaware on March 6, 1776 under the command of John Barry,

In March of 1776 Moylan was appointed Aide-de-Camp to General Washington with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  His appointment coincided with the British evacuation of Boston on March 17, and the ending of the Siege of Boston   Moylan had little time to adjust to his new responsibilities before he was engaged in the logistics of moving the Army from Boston to New York to prevent an anticipated British move against that seaport.   

In June of 1776 Moylan was appointed Quartermaster General of the Continental Army by the Continental Congress. The timing of his appointment was unfortunate as the British were already closing in on New York leaving him with little time to impede their progress. Despite his best efforts at anchoring obstacles in the Hudson and other waterways the British, with their numerically superior forces and equipment,  easily overpowered the proceeded to defeat the Continental army at the Battle of Brooklyn in August of 1776. Accepting responsibility for the loss of equipment and supplies during the ensuing evacuation he offered his resignation to the Continental Congress. He letter of resignation stated that he would remain in the army as a volunteer.

Despite the defeat and loss of equipment at Brooklyn, Washington knew that Moylan was a victim of circumstances and that any blame to be attributed was to be shared equally by all in his command including himself.  Acknowledging that fact and as a gesture of his continued confidence in Moylan Washington invited him to recruit and command a Regiment of Light Dragoons. The Regiment officially known 4th Continental Light Dragoons included recruits from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and New Jersey was authorized in January 1777.

In 1777 Moylan's regiment took part  in numerous battles  including the Battle of Princeton. in January,  the Battle of Brandywine in September,  and the Battle of Germantown on October 4.  During the winter of 1777/78 all four Continental Dragoons Regiments, under the command General Pulaski, were at Valley Forge protecting the main army encampment.  Moylan was placed in command of all four Regiments during the absence of General Pulaski who was engaged in foraging operations away from the main encampment. 

In March of 1778 Moylan succeeded General Pulaski as Commander of the Cavalry. During the remainder of 1778 the Calvary took part in the Battles of Springfield and Monmouth in June and afterwards engaged in stalking British units in northern New Jersey as they withdrew towards New York.

In October of 1780, Moylan  married Mary Ricketts Van Horne from Middlebrook, New Jersey with whom he had two children. Two other offspring's died in infancy.

In the campaign of 1779  Moylan's  Dragoons were stationed at Pound Ridge, New York and saw action during  the British raids in  Norwalk, New Haven and Fairfield in July of 1779.   In July of 1780 the Dragoon's  took part in General Anthony Wayne's failed expedition to destroy a blockhouse at Bull's Ferry, New Jersey in July 1780.

The last time Moylan's commanded his Dragoons was during the Siege of Yorktown in October of 1781. After the ensuing British surrender Moylan left the field due to ill health.

On his return to Philadelphia, he continued to be active in public life.  He owned a farm in Chester County and a residence in Philadelphia. He served as Recorder of Deeds Chester County in 1792-1793.

In 1793 he was  appointed Major General of Militia by Governor Mifflin for Chester and Delaware counties. In that same year he  was appointed Commissioner of Loans for the State of Pennsylvania. by President Washington.

Congress promoted Moylan as Brevet Brigadier General on November 3, 1783.

Stephen Moylan died in Philadelphia on  April 11, 1811.  He is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in Philadelphia.



Edmund Burke (January 12, 1729 July 9, 1797) was an Irish political philosopher, Whig politician and statesman who is often regarded as the father of modern conservatism.   Source: World Encyclopedia of Law     

John Glover (November 5, 1732 – January 30, 1797) was an American fisherman, merchant, and military leader from Marblehead, Massachusetts, who served as a Brigadier General in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.       Source; Wikipedia

Contributor:   Tomás Ó Coısdealbha


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