Reviewed by Joe Camaratta, a historical interpreter at Washington Crossing Historic Park
John Haslet’s World: An Ardent Patriot, the Delaware Blues, and the Spirit of 1776 is David Price’s third in a trilogy on the Ten Crucial Days, the period from Washington’s crossing of the Delaware to the Battle of Princeton.
Price focuses on those heroes underrepresented by most historians when they tell the story of the fight for American independence. The book details John Haslet’s life as an Irish immigrant who embodied the grit and determination of the patriots fighting against Great Britain.
Price unfolds the development of Haslet from preacher to physician to planter to one of Washington’s “brave fellows.” The story begins in Straw, Ireland, when John Haslet is born into a Scot-Irish Presbyterian family and follows him to North America in the 1750s in search of religious freedom.
Haslet experiences his first taste of the military during the French and Indian War and settles in the Lower Colonies of Pennsylvania that eventually form the state of Delaware to pursue life as a farmer and politician. In 1776, he was chosen to build a “battalion” to represent Delaware in the cause for independence.
Haslet leads the Delaware Blues – an elite regiment of 800 men strong, handsomely outfitted in blue uniforms – to New York City in August 1776 to support Washington’s defense of the city. The regiment plays a key role in rescuing the army following the Battle of Long Island and again at the Battle of White Plains.
Due to Haslet’s leadership and determination, the Delaware Blues were some of the best trained and most reliable soldiers in the Continental Army. In a “riches to rags” story, Price demonstrates how Washington continuously relied on Haslet and the Blues to act as the army’s rear guard during the retreat through New Jersey in 1776.
By the time they finished fighting in the Battle of Trenton, the regiment was reduced to just over 100 men wearing torn and tattered clothing. In a final act of patriotism, Haslet deferred an order from General Washington to return to Delaware in order to continue to lead troops through the remainder of the winter campaign. The order was found in his pocket after he died on the battlefield at Princeton.
Price uses key events in colonial America and the War for Independence to put into context the sacrifices that Haslet made for his country. Along the way, readers are exposed to life in the eighteenth century colonies and reminded of the challenging start of the American Revolution. The book provides us with a better understanding of the events that shaped our independence and remembers the “virtues of a man, merits of a citizen and services of a soldier.”