Born in County Cork, Ireland, Stephen Moylan was a firm supporter of the War for American Independence and an early and active member of the staff of General George Washington. Moylan’s Roman Catholic parents were the successors of two leading mercantile families.  To evade British laws that forbade the education of Catholics in Ireland, they sent Stephen and his siblings to Europe during their formative years.  After his schooling, Stephen Moylan remained on the continent in the employ of his family’s shipping firm.[1] 

By the autumn of 1768, Stephen Moylan had immigrated to Philadelphia and established himself as a sound gentleman merchant in a few years’ time.[2]  The outbreak of war in the spring of 1775 substantially disrupted Atlantic trade and impacted Moylan’s commercial prospects.  As the Second Continental Congress began to establish a Continental Army, Pennsylvania Delegate John Dickinson recommended Moylan to George Washington, who straightaway appointed him “Muster Master General to the Army of the United Colonies on August 11, 1775.[3]  Washington also assigned Moylan an additional duty that fit his skill set by tasking him with procuring and outfitting several schooners to harass British supply ships.[4]  Having ably proved himself with this assignment, General Washington brought Moylan closer into Washington’s inner circle in early November 1775, as his secretary in Joseph Reed’s absence.[5]  Once the headquarters staff formed over the winter months of the Siege of Boston, Washington retained Moylan as his senior aide-de-camp.[6]  

Following the British evacuation of Boston on St. Patrick’s Day, 1776, the theater of conflict shifted to New York.  The Continental Congress appointed Stephen Moylan to the recently vacated post of Quarter Master General on Wednesday, June 5, 1776.[7]  In the course of the new campaign, the reinforced military might of Great Britain proved to be too much for the Continental Army.  Problems with supplies and transports were viewed by some members of Congress as a contributing factor to continual setbacks and, as a result, Stephen Moylan was urged to resign as Quarter Master General at the end of September  1776.[8]  He remained with the Army thereafter as a volunteer, being “too late to share in the honours” at the Battle of Trenton but was present at the Battle of Princeton, which he heartily proclaimed to be “the best piece of Generalship I ever read, or heard of.” [9]

In early 1777, Congress approved for the formation of four regiments of horse soldiers to complement the infantry and artillery.  Moylan was commissioned a commander of the 4th Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons, with the rank of Colonel, on January 8, 1777.[10]  Moylan reliably coordinated and managed detachments of his regiment to reconnoiter and screen against enemy movements throughout the course of the war.  He was particularly active during the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown in 1777, the Battle of Monmouth in the summer of 1778, and the Siege of Yorktown in 1781.  The departure of Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski as the commander of the corps of light dragoons in the spring of 1778 led Washington to appoint Moylan as its commandant, owing to Moylan’s seniority in rank.[11]  Yet Stephen Moylan did not receive a promotion to a commensurate rank until the end of war, and then only by brevet.[12]  

Settling in Chester County, Pennsylvania, after the war, Stephen Moylan was employed in governmental offices, rising to the chief clerk of the county court.[13]  After some years in that office, the Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton nominated him to fill the position of Commissioner of Loans for the District of Pennsylvania on December 5, 1793.  President Washington appointed Moylan to the office, and he remained in that capacity for the rest of his life.[14]  Moylan died on April 13, 1811, “in the 74th year of his age”.[15]  

 

Samuel K. Fore
Harlan Crow Library

 

Notes:

[1] Francois Jean, Marquis de Chastellux, Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781 & 1782.  Translated and edited by Howard C. Rice, Jr. (Chapel Hill: Published for the Institute of Early American History & Culture by the University of North Carolina Press, 1963), 115; Martin I. J. Griffin, Stephen Moylan, Muster-Master General, Secretary and Aide-de-Camp to Washington,… (Philadelphia, 1909).

[2] Pennsylvania Journal, (Philadelphia, Penn.), 20 October 1768; [Samuel Hood], A Brief Account of the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick… (Philadelphia: Prepared and published by order of the Hibernian Society, 1844), 94.

[3] John Dickinson to George Washington, 25 July 1775, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-01-02-0101; General Orders, 11 August 1775, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-01-02-0189.

[4] Instructions to Colonel John Glover and Stephen Moylan, 4 October 1775, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-02-02-0090.

[5] George Washington to James Warren, 2 November 1775,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-02-02-0268; George Washington to Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Reed, 20 November 1775, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-02-02-0373.

[6] General Orders, 6 March 1776, Founders Online, National Archives,  https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-03-02-0304.

[7] Worthington C. Ford, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. Vol. V, 5 June-8 October 1776. (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1906), 419.

[8] See footnote 3 in General Orders, 28 September 1776, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-06-02-0323.  

[9] George Washington to John Hancock, 22 January 1777, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-08-02-0135; Stephen Moylan to Robert Morris, December 27, 1776.Papers of the Continental Congress (M247, r99, i78, v 15, p 155); Stephen Moylan to Robert Morris, January 7, 1777. Harlan Crow Library.

[10] Stephen Moylan, 4th Regiment Light Dragoons, Compiled Service Records…, National Archives.

[11] George Washington to Colonel Stephen Moylan, 20 March 1778, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-14-02-0214; General Orders, 7 August 1778, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-16-02-0275.

[12] George Washington to Colonel Stephen Moylan, 20 March 1778, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-14-02-0214; Commission as Brigadier General by Brevet, November 4, 1783. Am 6305, Historical Society of Pennsylvania

[13] [Samuel Hood], A Brief Account of the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick; With Biographical Notices of Some of the Members, and Extracts from the Minutes. (Philadelphia: Prepared and published by order of the Hibernian Society, 1844), 26.

[14] Alexander Hamilton to Stephen Moylan, 9 December 1793, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-15-02-0374.  

[15] Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), April 16, 1811.

Further Reading:

Clark, William Bell. George Washington’s Navy: Being an Account of His Excellency’s Fleet in New England Waters. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, [1960].

Lefkowitz, Arthur S. George Washington’s Indispensable Men: The 32 Aides-de-Camp Who Helped Win American Independence. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2003.

Griffin, Martin I. J. Stephen Moylan, Muster-Master General, Secretary and Aide-de-Camp to Washington, Quartermaster-General, Colonel of Fourth Pennsylvania Light Dragoons and Brigadier-General of the War for American Independence, the First and the Last President of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Philadelphia.  Philadelphia, [s.n.]: 1909.

 

 

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