When the war broke out Ann and James Whitall stayed in their home even though the chances that they would be close to the fighting was very good since they were located on the river, not far from Philadelphia. In 1777, part of Whitall`s house was used as a command headquarters. Fort Mercer was built on the apple orchid and Fort Miffin across the river on the Pennsylvania side. The two forts were built to protect Philadelphia and keep the British from moving down river.
The British General William Howe took Philadelphia in September 1777. General George Washington commanded Colonel Christopher Greene to defend Fort Mercer at any cost. With the odds in favor of the British, 1,228 men to Green`s 400, the task would not be easy. Colonel Green devised some plans that would inhibit the enemy from making a clean sweep of the area. He constructed some stockades that were placed in the water about four feet beneath the water line. The stockades would rip into the bottom of the British ships as they tried to maneuver down river. He also, at the advice of a French engineer, Chevalier de Mauduit du Plessis, built an inner wall around the outside of the fort, reducing the perimeter that had to be patrolled and fooling the enemy into thinking that they had broke through the fort.
Ann Whitall was spinning wool when the “rockets red glare” came straight through one of the walls of the house. She refused to leave and took her spinning wheel to the cellar and continued her work. She declared, “ I will not leave; I`ll be needed after the battle is over”. She earned herself a nickname for her actions, “The Angel of the Battle of Red Bank”. The battle was intense but much more for the British side. They lost 514 compared to 23 wounded and 14 dead for the Americans. Ann did what she said she would do. She stayed and turned her house into a hospital, taking care of British and American alike.
A month after the battle of Red Bank the fort was evacuated and the Whitalls left the house. The British ransacked it but there would be no restitution from the British or the new American government. The Whitalls returned to their home six months later. Generations of Whitalls lived in the house up until 1862. It was eventually transferred from the federal government to Gloucester County in 1905. Since then it has stood as a national historic site.
The Red Bank Battlefield is located at 100 Hessian Avenue in National Park. The park is opened year round and open until dusk. You can tour the house but please call for visiting hours. If you get a chance to visit this great site, take the family and bring a picnic lunch. There are picnic pavilions and a playground available so the whole family can enjoy the day.
For more South Jersey History, visit our SJ History page.