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First Name: Robert

Last Name: Erskiine

Birthplace: GBR

Gender: Male

Branch: Continental Army (1775 - 1784)

Date of Birth: 07 September 1735

Date of Death: 02 October 1780


Years Served:
Robert Erskine

•  Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783)


Robert Erskine
General, Continental Army

Robert Erskine was born on 7 September 1735 in Scotland.

Erskine was an inventor and engineer of some renown in his native land of Scotland. He attended the University of Edinburgh and started a failed business in his youth. He invented the "Continual Stream Pump" and "Platometer," a centrifugal hydraulic engine, and experimented with other hydraulic systems. He became active in civic issues and increasingly gained the respect of his community. In 1771, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, a prestigious appointment in the scientific community. Erskine invented what is now known as hydraulics. Back then, however, they were called elevating pumps.

In 1771, the owners of the ironworks near Ringwood, NJ, tapped Erskine to replace Peter Hasenclever as Ironmaster after Hasenclever's profligate spending nearly bankrupted the operation.

Erskine immediately set about trying to make the operation profitable. His efforts were cut short by the American Revolutionary War. Erskine was sympathetic to the American cause, but worried that he might lose his workers to the army. He organized them into a militia and was appointed a militia Captain in August 1775.

Once the war broke out in earnest, there was concern among the rebels that the British warships would use the Hudson River to attack northern forts and separate New England from the rest of the colonies. Erskine, ever the engineer, designed a tetrahedron-shaped marine Chevaux-de-Frise -- essentially a barrier that would keep warships from moving upriver.

George Washington was impressed with Erskine from the moment they met and appointed him to the post of Geographer and Surveyor General of the Continental Army in 1777. Following his appointment, Erskine drew upwards of 275 maps covering the northern sector of the war. His maps of the region, showing roads, buildings, and other details, were of much use to General Washington and remain historically valuable today. Many of these maps can be found in the Erskine Dewitt Map Collection at the New York Historical Society.

Erskine also kept the ironworks in operation supplying critical munitions and materials to Washington's Army.


Lake Erskine in Ringwood, New Jersey is named after him.

Death and Burial

On 2 October 1780, while out on a map-making expedition, Robert Erskine contracted a cold and died, probably of pneumonia. He is buried at Ringwood Manor in Ringwood State Park in New Jersey.

George Washington attended his funeral in Ringwood.

Honoree ID: 2474   Created by: MHOH




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