(In the spirit of noding your homework, I'm posting part of a 1986 paper, which will give background to my next write-up. Note: The following is original research, and not to be confused with the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica entry at William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling.)

William Alexander was born in New York on December 27, 1725 to Maria and James Alexander. James Alexander had come to America from Scotland in 1715, and was known to be presumptive heir to the title of the Earl of Stirling, but he did not present his claim.1 James Alexander was a mathematician and engineer as well as a lawyer. He became the Surveyor General of New York and New Jersey. In 1724, he was appointed a member of the King's Council for New York, Attorney General of New Jersey and a member of the King's Council for New Jersey. Though a member of the aristocracy, he developed a deep respect for the principles of common law.2

James Alexander established the New York Weekly with John Peter Zenger as its editor. Along with two other founders, James wrote discursive editorials which led to the landmark Zenger trial. Defense of Zenger was handled by James Alexander until he was disbarred. The ultimate acquittal of Zenger established several democratic principles, the most notable being the right of free speech. Having triumphed in this and other causes, James Alexander became established as a champion of the rights of the common man.3

He had married the widow of Samuel Provoost, who continued her deceased husband's mercantile business after her marriage to James Alexander. As a young man, William Alexander was a clerk, then co-partner in his mother's business. In the course of their trade they took contracts to supply the British troops with clothing and provisions.4 William was sent to Scotland for his formal education, but was also instructed by his father in mathematics, astronomy, and surveying. In 1748, he married Sarah Livingston and subsequently had two daughters, Mary and Kitty.

James Alexander had been one of four purchasers of a tract of land in the vicinity of and embracing the present village of Basking Ridge (in New Jersey). James Alexander's share was a tract of about 700 acres to the northeast of the village of Basking Ridge, bordering the Passaic River.5 When James died in 1756, his estate was divided between William and his four sisters. William inherited the Basking Ridge land.

William served as a British Commissary officer in the French and Indian Wars, gaining military experience that would profit him in later years. As an aide-de-camp to General Shirley he met persons of influence who recognized him as rightful heir to the Scottish Earldom of Stirling. They urged him to make claim to that title, which he did.6 In 1759, this verdict was in favor of William Alexander of New York, and he then assumed the name and title of Earl of Stirling; but to use it legally as a British subject, he must have the consent of the House of Lords.7 Though recognized by the courts of Scotland, his claim was vetoed by the House of Lords. Nevertheless, he used the title of Lord and Earl of Stirling.

Following his mother's death in 1761 and his return from England, he began the construction of a summer residence on the estate at Basking Ridge. The building of this residence, the improvement of the estate, his public duties as Surveyor General of New Jersey and member of the Provincial Council, occupied his energies until the outbreak of the Revolution.8 The construction of the Proprietary House of Perth Amboy, the official residence of the governor of East Jersey, was supervised by Lord Stirling. It was built and designed by John Edward Prior, who was also the architect for Stirling's home in Basking Ridge, known as the Buildings. The Buildings were begun in 1762 and they became habitable in the latter part of 1763. "The seat of Lord Stirling called by the country people 'The Buildings' was designed to imitate the residence of an English nobleman; it was unfinished when the war began. That stable, coach house and other offices, ornamented with cupolas and gilded vanes, were built around a larged paved court behind the mansion. The front, with piazzas, opened on a fine lawn descending to a considerable stream called the Black River. A large hall extended through the centre of the house. On one side was a drawing room with painted walls and a stuccoed ceiling."9

Stirling was one of the three original owners of the Hibernia iron mines in Morris County. In the 1700's, iron was produced at several forges operating along the upper Passaic River. The Stirling forge was located on the Stirling estate at the junction of Great Brook and the Passaic River.10 He planted vineyards in New York and New Jersey and cultivated hemp.

He was a founder and one of the first governors of King's College, which is now Columbia University. Stirling was largely instrumental in the repeal of the Stamp Act which was imposed on the people of New Jersey in 1764. The first medical regulation law in the colony of New Jersey was proposed by Stirling in 1772; this law helped materially to reduce the number of quacks and laid foundations for the present method of licensing of doctors.11

In 1775, Stirling was appointed by the Provincial Congress to command the First New Jersey Battalion. In confirmation of his appointment, Stirling wrote to the New Jersey Council, "At a time when their dearest rights are invaded, to call me forth to take so important a part in their defense cannot but rouse the most grateful feelings of a man who ever has been a friend to the liberties of mankind.12" In 1775, he armed and equipped a regiment at his own expense. To be within reach of various posts, officers of the army were frequently quartered at Stirling's Basking Ridge residence. General Washington himself spent time at the Buildings although there is no record that he ever slept there. Washington dined with Governor William Franklin at Trenton and stayed the night there. Next morning he breakfasted at Princeton and moved on to Basking Ridge, where he spent the day at the mansion of William Alexander, known as Lord Stirling, who had accompanied him from Philadelphia.13

In January 1776, Stirling boldly attacked a British ship carrying provisions for the royal troops at Boston. Stirling supervised the fortification of the New York harbor and the building of Forts Washington and Lee. He was appointed Brigadier General and succeeded General Lee in command. In a letter to John Hancock, Stirling accepted the promotion and added, "I wish I had more knowledge and experience, and was better qualified to execute the arduous task I am now appointed to, but the Congress may rest assured that in every situation I will endeavour to do the best I can ...14" In August 1776, at the Battle of Long Island, Stirling had command of a detachment of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware troops. In attempting to cover their retreat he was taken prisoner by Cornwallis. Stirling rejoined the army in New Jersey, and when he went into quarters at Morristown, he commanded the line between the camp and the enemy. He was promoted to Major General in February 1777. Stirling served for a short time in the Highlands during the summer of 1777, led a division under Sullivan at the Battle of Brandywine, and commanded the reserves at Germantown.15 Stirling's division was responsible for thwarting the British at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, and had a great deal to do with repairing the blunders of General Lee. Dr. James McHenry, a private secretary to General Washington, wrote a letter several days after the battle in which he said, "General Green and Lord Stirling gave the most evident and unequivocal marks of great military worth; their despositions were judicious, their judgement good and clear, and their bravery always pointed and efficacious.16" By the end of the war, Stirling had commanded every brigade in the Contintental Army, except those of South Carolina and Georgia. His loyalty to General Washington was limitless. He was a passionate patriot, active throughout the American Revolution from its beginning to its very end.17"

Stirling presided at the court-martial of General Lee and declared him guilty of disobedience of orders, misbehavior before the enemy and disrespect toward the Commander-in-Chief.18 During the winter of 1777-78 at the Middlebrook encampment, Stirling exposed a plot to undermine Washington. At the time Stirling was in permanent command of the Virginia line and second-in-command to General Washington. On December 22, 1778, Washington had to leave camp to go to Philadelphia and wait upon Congress. General Stirling took over the command of the camp, and served as temporary commander until Washington's return to Middlebrook on February 5, 1779.19

Stirling and Washington devised a series of warning signals to call out the militia and spread the alarm throughout New Jersey. The signals were tall, columnar structures filled with dry brush and set on fire. The initial alarm to set the signals blazing was General Stirling's cannon at the Middlebrook headquarters.

Although he was a wealthy man prior to the war, his military involvement prevented him from successfully managing his personal affairs. By the end of the Revolution, all he had left were his title and the estate at Basking Ridge. Whatever vanity Lord Stirling may have felt for his title or social position, it was unhesitatingly put aside in defense of his country. If nothing else, this fact entitles him to the respect of historians and the admiration of future generations.20

On July 27, 1779, there was a great celebration at Basking Ridge. Stirling's daughter Kitty was married to Col. William Duer. General George Washington gave away the bride. This was the last great social event held at the Buildings. Later that same year, the estate was put up for sale. In a broadside advertising the sale was the following description of "a fine farm and mansion house at Baskenridge, the residence of the said Earl of Stirling with all the elegant buildings, gardens, etc., containing about 1000 acres, of which about 300 is cleared upland. On this farm there are about 1500 fine bearing apple trees of the best kind, besides several hundred of pears, peaches, plums, and cherries in the greatest variety.21" Stirling was in Albany, New York, in the command of the Northern Department when he died, January 15, 1783. At the time of his death, he was deeply in debt. His home at Basking Ridge was turned over to his creditors and sold at a forced sale for a considerable loss.

General Washington extended his condolences to Lord Stirling in a letter which read in part, "It only remains, then, as a small but just tribute to the memory of Lord Stirling, to express how deeply I share the common affliction, on being deprived of the public and professional assistance, as well as the private friendship, of an officer of so high rank with whom I have lived in the strictest habits of amity.22"

Stirling was buried in his wife's ancestors' vault in the old Dutch church in Albany. His funeral was military and religious. When the Dutch church was demolished, his remains were taken to the cemetery of a Protestant Episcopal Church of which he was a member. In 1868, the cemetery was included in a public park and all the bodies removed to the Albany Rural Cemetery. "Here, it seems probably, now rest the bones of Major General, the Earl of Stirling, in a nameless grave whose tombstone bears the inscription,


"Slowly and sadly we laid him down
On the field of his fame, fresh and gory.
We carved not a line, we raised not a stone,
But left him alone with his glory.23"


1. Schumacher, Ludwig. Major General the Earl of Stirling. pg. 21
2. Hunterdon Historical Newsletter, "Lord Stirling Broadside
Given to Society", pg. 3
3. ibid
4. Schumacher. pg. 20
5. Schumacher. pgs. 18-19
6. Van Horn, J. H. Historic Somerset. pg. 24
7. Howlett, Ned O. Proceedings of the N.J. Historical Society,
"Lord Stirling in Basking Ridge", pg. 266
8. Schumacher. pg. 24
9. Honeyman, A. Van Dorn. Somerset County Historical Quarterly.
pgs. 41-43
10. Historical Booklet of Bernards Township
11. Proceedings of the N.J. Historical Society, vol. 10, pgs.
370-71
12. Schumacher. pgs. 34-35
13. Stories of New Jersey, "George Washington in New Jersey"
14. Valentine, Alan. Lord Stirling. pg. 169
15. Dictionary of American Biography. pg. 176
16. Schumacher. pgs. 43-44
17. Van Horn, J.H. pg. 25
18. Schumacher. pg. 45
19. Prince, Carl. Middlebrook---The American Eagle's Nest. pg. 19
20. Guttman, Howard M. The Crossroads, vol. XI, "New Jersey's
Only Earl, The Story of William Alexander", pg. 4.
21. Hunterdon Hustoric Newsletter, pg. 3.
22. Schumacher. pgs. 47-48
23. Peer, E. Jane. Proceedings of the N.J. Historical Society,
vol. XIV, pg. 315

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