Revolutionary War Historical Article

THE BALLAD OF CAPTAIN COLFAX AND THE LIFE GUARD

 

"But at Pompton Plains he met his match-
And when he laid the sword aside
In seventeen eighty-three,
To Pompton Plains he came anon..."

In the eighteenth century it was common to give praise to a military hero by composing a poetic ballad in remembrance of that person's deeds. This was particularly true during the American Revolution when many such ballads were written in honor of the men and officers of our nation's War of Independence. One such ballad was entitled, "Capt. Colfax and the Life Guard." It is found in a little known book, called, Ballads of New Jersey in the Revolution. The book was written in 1896 by Charles C. Platt.

Ironically, while the ballad mentions Pompton Plains (which is the northern part of present-day Pequannock Township in Morris County, New Jersey), the home of Hester Schuyler and William Colfax (preserved now as the historic Schuyler-Colfax Museum) is located in a part of Wayne, New Jersey (Passaic County) once known simply as "Pompton" during the colonial and Revolutionary War Period.

Captain William Colfax was a brave member and one time leader of an elite corps of Washington's Continental Army known as The Commander-in-Chief's Guard. The Guard was a one-hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty man unit of mounted horsemen and fighters who were assigned to protect and fight for General George Washington. Their motto was "Conquer or Die." Later married to Hester Schuyler, William Colfax became known as "Colfax of Pompton." What follows is a copy of the ballad written about Colfax, the Life Guards, and Hester Schuyler, by author or authors unknown.

Capt. COLFAX and the LIFE GUARD

AND oft a mounted troop would ride
Along our village street;
A noble group was that mounted troop,
'Twas Washington and his suite

A band of chosen men were they,
Two hundred and two score,
Each man a born American -
To these add ten men more.

Of character above reproach,
Of stature good, well built;
All in their youthful prime, I ween,
Like knights of old, to tilt
In service of their noble chief
And guard that manly form
o whom our weal or woe depend,
In all this weltering storm.

Their coats were blue and faced with bluff,
And waistcoats red they wore,
With buckskin breeches, belts of white
Around their waist; and more,
Upon their heads cocked hats of felt,
Black felt with white tape bound;
In all the ranks of war's array
No goodlier troop is found
Well-drilled were they in every art
Of war-like strategy,
A model for our rustic host
In skill and loyalty.

Their Captain William Colfax was,
A trusty warrior he,
Well pleasing to the ladies all
For his brave gallantry.

At Bunker Hill he had fought and still
Continued in the field
Until at Yorktown he beheld
The British leader yield.

Thrice was he wounded-once of death
But little did he lack,
For a bullet struck him full in front
And came out at the back.

But in the excitement of the hour
His hurt he did not know
And, heedless, galloped o'er the field
Intent to check the foe.

The life-blood streamed-his men beheld
That fatal flow and cried,
"You're hurt ! you're hurt ! fast ebbs your life!"
Then he saw the crimson tide.

Off to the hospital he rode,
Soon weak and faint he grew;
But the wound was dressed ; it healed and he
The warfare did renew.

A dashing, fiery chief was he,
Accoutered spick and span;
And prompt to go against the foe,
A brave, intrepid man.

But at Pompton Plains he met his match-
'Twas Hester Schuyler, she
Old Casper's child, a black-eyed girl
Of roguish witchery.

True to the motto of his band.
"I conquer or I die,"
He faced those eyes, but vainly tries
Their victory to deny.

And when he laid his sword aside
In seventeen eighty-three,
To Pompton Plains he came anon,
I' faith, no time lost he.

And there fair Hester won the day,
She conquered, yet did yield;
And Captain Colfax, led his bride
In triumph from the field.

O well it were if on such wise
Each deadlier strife might end;
Love win the day, though fierce the fray,
and each to each be friend.

The above has been researched and written by Edward G. Engelbart, Pequannock Town Council liaison to the Pequannock Historic District Commission, from Ballads of New Jersey in the Revolution by Charles D. Platt, pages 102-105. First published in 1896, it was reissued in 1972 by Kennikat Press, Port Washington, N. Y. and London. Middle Atlantic States Historical Publications Series No. 9. According to Platt his sources were The Story of an Old Farm, or Life in New Jersey in the Eighteenth Century, by Andrew D. Mellick, Jr., and Historical Collections of New Jersey.

NOTE:

As a result of discussions at the Pequannock Historic District Commission, it was noted by Commission member, Joan Shane, in an act of serendipity, that the ballad could be sung to the tune of "Yankee Doodle Dandy." While it could not be determined if this was or was not the intent of the ballad's author or authors, it appears to be more than just coincidental. Accordingly, it was the Commission's belief that it was deliberate.

 

REFERENCES

“Ballards of New Jersey in the Revolution" by: Charles D. Platt - Published 1896.

“The Commander-in-Chief’s Guard” by: Carlos F. Godfrey, Ph.D.
Originally published: 1904 - publisher: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1972 (DNM Lib.)

“The Encyclopedia of the American Revolution” by: Col. Mark M. Boatner, III (USA).
“Life Guard of Washington” Publisher: David McKay Company - 1974 (DNM Lib.)

George Washington' sIndispensable Men by: Arthur S. Lefkowitz
Publisher: Stackpole Books - 2003 (DNM Lib.)

Washington's Crossing by: David Hackett Fischer, Ph.D.
Publisher: Oxford University Press - 2004 (0MM Jib.)

“The Writings of George Washington from Original Manuscript Sources” -39 vol. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor - Publisher: United States Government Printing Office. (DNM Lib.)

“TheContinental Army” by: Robert K. Wright, Ph.D.
Publisher: Center of Military History - United States Army - 1983 (DNM Lib.)

“To Major Gibbs With Much Esteem” by: Howard H. Wehmann
ublisher: “Prologue Magazine” - National Archives, Volume 4 (1972)

“George Washington, a Biography” by: Douglas Southall Freeman - 7 Volumes
Publisher: Scribners, New York - 1948 (DNM Lib.)

“The Field Book of the American Revolution” by: Benson J. Lossing -2 volumes
Publisher: Harper, New York -1951 (DNM Lib.)

“Pension Records” - Held at the National Archives, Washington, D.C.

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