Brevet Major John Van Dyk
Brevet Major John Van Dyk: A Portrait of Uncommon Patriotism and Resilience
By Jeff Wilford
While serving at Valley Forge, Brevet Major John Van Dyk (also spelled Dyke and Dyck) was in the middle of a military career that would place him at some of the Revolutionary War’s most significant events and in the company of the luminaries of the war. A descendant of one of the original Dutch families to settle northern New Jersey, Van Dyk was born in New York City, but grew up along the banks of the Raritan River. He served in the American Revolution as an artilleryman from May 16, 1775, to its close, beginning his service as a member of the New Jersey Militia and the NYC Militia. Most of his time, however, he was attached to Colonel Thomas Proctor’s 4th Regiment of the Continental Artillery Regiment and, later, the 2nd Regiment of the Continental Corps of Artillery under Colonel John Lamb. While at Valley Forge, these regiments were part of Brigadier General Henry Knox’s Brigade, which encamped in the Artillery Park area.
Serving in the northern theater, Van Dyk participated in some of its most notable events. In August of 1775, he assisted Alexander Hamilton with the removal of cannons from the Battery in New York City, while being fired upon by the HMS Asia. He was involved in twelve battles, including Long Island, Harlem Heights, White Plains, Trenton, Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. He was also at both of the Morristown Winter Encampments as well as Valley Forge, where he served as a lieutenant and acting adjutant.
While Van Dyk was serving at West Point, Benedict Arnold betrayed General Washington, resulting in the capture of Arnold’s accomplice, British Major John Andre. Van Dyk remained in Tappan, NY, during Andre’s trial and was one of the four Continental officers to accompany him to the gallows. Later, after receiving a furlough from General Washington to go to sea to recover from an undisclosed illness, he served as a lieutenant of marines on the brig General Reed. The ship, however, was captured by the British, and he was confined on the notorious British prison ship Jersey, eventually being released as part of a prisoner exchange. Van Dyk recorded his recollections of both accounts for posterity.
As the war ended, he was present when the British evacuated New York Harbor and was an original member of George Washington’s Society of the Cincinnati. Perhaps his final act as a soldier was in New York City as one of the eight Lafayette Guards, all friends of the Marquis and surviving original Society of Cincinnati members, as they paid tribute on horseback in a procession to honor their former general at his passing in 1834. It is said that the only favor the Marquis de Lafayette ever asked of the new American government was to install John Van Dyk as an officer in the New York City Customs House, where he served with his former colonel, John Lamb.