Alarms along the Delaware
TO ENSURE A PROMPT AND EFFICIENT WARNING SYSTEM, Henry Fisher of Lewes, Delaware, was selected to effect a method of alerting the Committee of Safety to the approach of British men-of-war as well as supervising the pilots in the lower Delaware Bay. This was a constant source of irritation to the British navy, as they were always seeking a river pilot to guide them up the bay and river.
Fisher was instructed to provide a system of riders and alarms posts to quickly inform the city of any news of the British. To that end, 13 alarm posts were established between Lewes and Point no Point, at the mouth of the Frankford Creek. These were:
1. Cape Henlopen (Lewes); 2. Boat at Mushmellon (Mispillion River); 3. Boat at Motherkill (Murderkill River); 4. Bombay Hook; 5. Steep Water Point (Port Penn); 6. Long Point; 7. Dalby Point; 8. Chester; 9. Thompson Point; 10. Billingsport; 11. Gloucester; 12. Market Street Wharf; 13. Point No Point (Frankford Creek).
Many of the patriots who manned these alarm posts have been identified. Henry Fisher at Lewes, George Jackson at Mispillion River, Samuel Edwards and John Marshall at the Murderkill River, Benjamin Brooks at Bombay Hook, Lawrence Morris at Steep Water Point or Port Penn (this post in 1777 became the headquarters for the alarm post command under Captain Leeson Simmons), Uriah Paul at Long Point, Baltzer or Poltis Risner at Dalby Point, a Mr. Coburn at Chester, Charles Thompson at Thompson Point, the milita officer in command at Billingsport, Charles Richards and Christopher Ronedollar at Gloucester (Fort Island aka Fort Mifflin was not an official alarm station but was expected to assist in forwarding alarm messages), William Hammond at Market Street Wharf. At Point No Point the custodian is unknown.
The lower alarm posts all seem to have had small boats, probably pilot boats, in addition to a 3 or 4 pounder cannon. From Alarm Post 5 north all were equipped with cannon. Later the guard boats of the navy were assigned to complement and protect these posts. Usually these were one-man posts, consisting of a crude cabin on a promontory or point of land. Exceptions to this type of station were the redoubt at Billingsport and the Market Street Wharf. As no agency was assigned to supervise the alarm posts, it became the resposibility of the PA State Navy, and later the Navy Board.
In addition to the alarm posts Fisher established stations between Lewes and Philadelphia for changes of riders and horses. Each station was to endorse the message, indicating the time received and time dispatched. Stations were located at Cedar Creek, Dover, Cantwell's Bridge, Wilmington, and Chester. This 18th century express required about 21 hours to reach Philadelphia.
Sources: P.A., Second Series, Vols, I, IV, V, III; Delaware Archives, Vols II, III; J.W. Jackson, "The Pennsylvania Navy, 1775-1778".