Sligo's John Patton: Revolutionary War Hero

Many Irish who contributed significantly to this nation have been undeservedly excluded from the pages of our school’s history books and their stories remain untold. One such is John Patton. Born in 1745 in County Sligo, John immigrated to Philadelphia about 1765. He met and married Jane Davis on 7 March 1777 and they had seven sons and four daughters. Although a family man, when the American Revolution started, John felt it his duty to fight for his adopted country, especially since the enemy was the Crown that had forced him into exile.

(Left: A uniform of the 13th PA: From Uniforms of the Armies in the War of the American Revolution, 1775-1783. Lt. Charles M. Lefferts. Limited Edition of 500. New York York Historical Society. New York, NY. 1926.)

At the start of the Revolution, Washington called for volunteers and seven companies were recruited from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware to form the 13th Pennsylvania State Rifle Regiment. They saw action during the New York Campaign and at the Battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth. Colonel Samuel Miles, the regiment's commanding officer, was captured at the Battle of Long Island while the regiment performed a holding action to allow Washington and his outnumbered army to retreat across New Jersey. Patton was a Major in Miles' regiment and so distinguished himself in command of the unit's 2nd Battalion during that New York and New Jersey Campaign that George Washington authorized him to raise an additional Regiment which he would command. In a letter, Washington wrote:

To Colonel John Patton

Consequent of the good opinion I entertain of you as an Officer, I present you with an Appointment to the Command of a Regiment. (John) Parke will be your Lieutenant Colonel and (Peter) Scull your Major. I have also to desire that Lieutenant John Dennis may be one of your Captains. (Scull later became a Brigade Major to General William Thompson of County Meath.) The rest of the Officers you and your Field Officers will, I hope, make a happy and judicious choice of – always keeping in view, how much your own honor and the reputation of the Regiment depends upon their goodness. Inclosed you have a Warrant upon the Paymaster for 5,000 Dollars to begin your Recruiting – more may be had as wanted.

Wishing you to use every possible exertion in the discharge of this duty, I remain Sir, Your Most Obedient Servant
George Washington

(Right: George Washington, as painted by historical artist Don Troiani.)

With Parke and Scull as his field officers, Patton was promoted to Colonel and his Regiment, authorized on 11 January 1777, was organized in the spring and assigned to the main Continental Army. The Regiment consisted of seven companies, one of which was a light horse cavalry commanded by the legendary Allen McLane. On 22 May the regiment was assigned to the 4th Virginia Brigade commanded by Brigadier General Charles Scott, who later became the post-war Governor of Kentucky. Patton’s Regiment took part in the June 1777 campaigns in New Jersey and Philadelphia in late 1777 when the British attacked the colonial capital. Outnumbered, they nevertheless held the British back long enough to allow the colonial government leaders to evacuate and saved the revolution.

Patton’s regiment lost much of its strength during the Valley Forge winter encampment of 1777–78. Between those losses and battle deaths, it was attached to Colonel William Grayson’s Continental Regiment and later joined with Colonel Thomas Hartley’s Continental Regiment in October 1778. The two regiments were finally consolidated as the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment in December 1778 led by two Irish-Americans: Major General John Sullivan and Brigadier General James Clinton.

After the war, his courageous and meritorious service behind him, Patton partnered with Colonel Miles and co-founded a huge iron-making furnace in Centre County, Pa. Iron implements were a staple of 18th-century life and to avoid the new nation’s reliance on imports, Patton decided to build an American ironworks. All the natural resources needed for iron production were available in Pennsylvania, so Patton bought land in Centre County and by the spring of 1792, Centre Furnace became the new nation’s first major iron-producing operation. Other businesses soon followed and by 1850 this region produced more iron than any other in the nation. Iron products from Pennsylvania played a leading role in the economic development of the United States well into the 19th century. In 1794, a new Town was officially formed in Centre County and it was named for John Patton.

Patton died on 9 Sep 1804 and is buried in nearby Riverview Cemetery. The town grew into a borough and in 1895, a Patton Clay Manufacturing Co. was incorporated. It became one of the largest clay manufacturers in the world making clay products like the Patton Pavers that were used to build the Panama Canal and can also be found surrounding France’s Eiffel Tower. Today, the Patton, Pa. website doesn’t even mention his history. Why is John Patton’s story not in our history books nor even on his own town’s website since he was yet another of the Irish who helped to make America great? -- Mike McCormack, AOH Historian

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Tags: American Revolution, Entrepreneurs, War

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