Newark-Pompton Turnpike heads toward Federal Hill In Riverdale, N.J. (blowup from an early 1960s snapshot).

American Troops mutinied
on Federal Hill in 1781

Read a First-Person Account of the Executions

(From his original article in Trends, Feb. 21, 1968)

Federal Hill was the scene of a Revolutionary War mutiny that caught the attention of General George Washington and led to the execution of two mutineers.

The hill, once named Burnt Mountain, looms over the intersection of Hamburg Turnpike and Newark-Pompton Turnpike in Riverdale, N.J.. During the Revolution it was used as lookout post.

The mutiny occured during the severe winter of 1781, after most of the fighting in the war had moved south. General Washington was living in the Ford Mansion in Morristown, about 15 miles away.

It was not the first mutiny of the war. Three weeks earlier, about 1,300 Pennsylvania Line troops in Morristown, N.J. got fed up with their living conditions and decided to take their grievances to Princeton. They were nearly halfway when they were met by General "Mad Anthony" Wayne. He told them to submit their complaints to the Continental Congress, which was meeting in Philadelphia, and pledged to support them. They agreed to turn back. A congressional committee soon heard their grievances, and many of the Morristown troops were given back pay and honorable discharges.

General Washington apparently feared that a wave of insurrections could mean victory for the British, and he positioned General Robert Howe and his troops in Ringwood, N.J. as a safeguard.

On Federal Hill, meanwhile, life was brutal. The 160 soldiers had minimal food, clothing and shelter; they were beginning to suffer from frostbite and scurvy, they were bored, and they had not been paid in months.

On Jan. 20, 1781, the men left their posts and began a march to Elizabethtown to air their grievances. The troops were not deserting, but Washington sent General Howe and 500 troops to put an end to the mutiny.

Before Howe could reach them, the mutineers heard the good news about the settlement with Morristown troops and they decided to turn back. On their way they ran into Howe. The general let them return to Federal Hill unpunished.

A few days later, Sergeant Gimlore and Private John Tuttle persuaded a handful of Federal Hill troops to mutiny once more. After the two previous revolts, such an attempt could not go unpunished. The two ringleaders were arrested and shot by a firing squad made up of 12 fellow soldiers. The emotional executions shocked the remaining troops, some of whom were in tears.

There were no further incidents.

Back to the Save Federal Hill page