Col. Jacob Merserau
A Spy Almost Caught
Spouse(s): Fytje Ral
Family tree: Jacob Merserau c. 1730-1804
Col. Jacob Mersereau... was the son of Joshua Mersereau and Maria Corsen his wife; by the records of the Reformed Dutch Church, Port Richmond, he was baptised May 24th, 1730, and died in September, 1804, in the 75th year of his age.
The stone house at Willow Brook built by Johannes Roll
and later occupied by Jacob Mersereau
He resided in the old stone house in Northfield, not far from Graniteville, now occupied by his son, the venerable and Hon. Peter Mersereau.
1872 map showing Peter Mersereau's property
Soon after the beginning of the war, he became apprehensive for his personal safety, and fled to New Jersey. During his protracted residence there, he made occasional stealthy visits to his family by night, and on one of these occasions had a very narrow escape from capture.
Having crossed the Sound, and concealed his boat, he took his course for home across fields, avoiding the public roads as much as possible. It was while crossing a road from one field to another, that he was met by a young man whom he knew well, but as neither spoke, he imagined that the young man did not know him; in this, however, he was mistaken, for he was recognized at once. There was no British post just then nearer than Richmond, and thither the young tory hastened and informed the commanding officer, probably Col. Simcoe, of his discovery.
Preparations were made immediately to effect the arrest of the Colonel, but it was near daylight in the morning before the party set out. They were in no haste, for they supposed he intended to remain concealed at home during the day.
The family, as was their custom, had arisen early, but they did not discover the soldiers until they were within a few rods of the house. The alarm immediately given, which, being perceived by the approaching party, a rush was made, and as they reached the door, the Colonel sprang out of the upper northwest window of the house, upon a shed beneath it, and thence to the ground. A few rods west of the house is a small elevation, and it was while crossing this that he was discovered.
On the other side of the hill was a hedge row, terminating at a swamp, along which he ran on all fours, to keep himself out of sight, until he reached the swamp, in the middle of which he found a place of concealment. When he was discovered crossing the hill, those who had begun a search within were called out, and pursuit was made, but when the top of the hill was reached, the colonel was nowhere to be seen. The swamp was discovered, and it was at once concluded that he was there concealed, but as the pursuers were ignorant of its intricacies, they could proceed no further.
Dogs were then put upon the track, which they followed to the edge of the swamp, where they chanced to scent a rabbit, and away they went in chase of the new game. Here the pursuit terminated, and the colonel, after remaining concealed the whole day, escaped during the following night to New Jersey. For a week thereafter a close watch was kept upon the house by day and by night.
It is some consolation to know that the treacherous young tory did not receive the reward which had been offered for the patriot's capture.
Source: Clute, J. J. Annals of Staten Island. New York: Press of Chas Vogt, 1877. Reprint, Interlaken, New York: Heart of the Lakes Publishing, 1986. pp. 86-87.