On this day in 1777, Brigadier General Philemon Dickinson leads 400 raw men from the New Jersey militia and 50 Pennsylvania riflemen under Captain Robert Durkee in an attack against a group of 500 British soldiers foraging for food led by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Abercromby near Van Nest’s Mills in Millstone, New Jersey.
The mills lay at a strategic point between New Brunswick and Princeton, New Jersey, where General George Washington had defeated the British on January 3. After that victory, Washington had decided to divide his forces in order to harass British installments in the New Jersey towns of New Brunswick and Amboy.
The British, who were stealing flour and supplies from Van Nest’s Mills with which to supply their troops in New Brunswick, had set up small cannon defenses at a bridge crossing the Millstone River. The Patriots caught the British forces by surprise when they, avoiding the cannons, forded the deep and icy water.
In the ensuing 20-minute battle, Dickinson reported that the Patriots captured 107 horses, 49 wagons, 115 cattle, 70 sheep, 40 barrels of flour—106 bags and many other things. They also took 49 prisoners. General Washington reported to John Hancock that the British removed a good many dead and wounded in light Waggons, estimated to be 24 or 25 in total compared to the 4 or 5 losses sustained by the Patriots.