Historical Markers
Crooked Billet Historical Marker
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Crooked Billet

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Meadowbrook Ave. at Crooked Billet Elementary School in Hatboro

Dedication Date:
May 1, 1965

Behind the Marker

The entry for Crooked Billet in Mark Boatner's exhaustive Encyclopedia of the American Revolution describes the minor skirmish as a "microcosm" for "the impact of war upon society near a British-occupied city." The story illustrates the inadequacies of the state militia forces, the extent of Loyalist sentiment, estimated at more than one-third of the population, and the ferocity of what was arguably a civil war as much as a revolution.

The Pennsylvania militia had been responsible for patrolling the grounds north of Philadelphia and east of Valley Forge. In January 1778, the militia's commander went home on leave and state officials named twenty-five-year-old John Lacey, Jr., a miller from Bucks County, to replace him. A former Quaker, Lacey had been expelled from the pacifistic Society for his participation in the militia.

The young commander, however, also encountered problems as a member of the American military community. markerGeneral Anthony Wayne had ordered him court-martialed during the winter of 1776-77 for getting involved in a fistfight. General Washington criticized him in the spring of 1778 after Loyalist forces markerraided an American supply train within his patrol area. Embarrassed by the repeated raids and by the reports of Tory farmers openly trading with the British, Lacey rashly ordered an evacuation of civilians north of Philadelphia. Residents complained to Washington who quickly overruled the decision.

Feeling pressure from his superiors and steadily losing men to desertion, Lacey engaged in a series of maneuvers that brought his remaining men to Crooked Billet in early May. British Rangers under Major John G. Simcoe then attacked and routed Lacey's tired, frustrated force. There were reports of savage atrocities – several of Lacey's soldiers maintained that the British rangers marker burned some of their comrades alive. Shortly after the battle, Washington relieved the controversial young commander.
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