History: Who is Lord Stirling?

The Lord Stirling School was founded in 1965 to serve students who had not met with success in their local schools and who might benefit from redirecting their lives towards more positive goals, with hopes to help them achieve greater success in school and in their lives and careers.

The School opened and still operates in an historic farmhouse, part of the estate of William Alexander, “Lord Stirling,” a Major General in George Washington’s Continental Army. To learn more about the facilities, click here.

Who is Lord Stirling?

William Alexander, born 1726, was an educated, ambitious and bright young man, proficient in mathematics and astronomy. A veteran of the French and Indian war, the British House of Lords failed to recognize his claim of the title “Earl of Stirling,” which would have granted him significant title to coastal lands on the New England coast of the American colonies. He was eventually granted the lesser title of Lord Stirling. Satisfied with the compromise, he returned to America in 1761, and was appointed Surveyor-General of the Province of New Jersey and was a member of the King’s Provincial Council. He was one of the founders of King’s College (predecessor of Columbia University) and became its first governor.

Originally a resident of New York City, he eventually moved from New York to Basking Ridge and assembled his estate there. George Washington would later be a guest at the Basking Ridge Estate on several occasions and reportedly gave away Stirling’s daughter at her wedding. It is thought that the Lord Stirling School building was actually the home Stirling built for his daughter at the Estate.

When the American Revolutionary War began, Stirling was made a colonel in the New Jersey militia. He outfitted the militia at his own expense and spent his own money in support of the cause. He distinguished himself early by leading a group of volunteers in the capture of an armed British transport.

Congress appointed him brigadier general in the Continental Army in March 1776.

At the Battle of Long Island, in August of that year, Stirling led the 1st Maryland Regiment in repeated attacks against a superior British force at the Old Stone House near what is today named the Gowanus Canal and took heavy casualties. Outnumbered 25-1, his brigade was eventually overwhelmed and Stirling was taken prisoner, but not before repelling the British forces long enough to allow the main body of troops to escape to defensive positions at Brooklyn Heights. Because of his actions at Long Island, one newspaper called him “the bravest man in America” and he was praised by both Washington and the British for his bravery and audacity.

Stirling was released in a prisoner exchange (in return for governor Montfort Browne), promoted to major general, and became one of Washington’s most able and trusted generals. Washington held him in such high regard that he placed Stirling in command of the entire Continental Army for nearly two months, while he was away on personal business and throughout most of the war he was considered to be 3rd or 4th in rank behind Washington. Though he cast his lot with the Patriot cause during the American Revolution, officers (including Washington) and men alike often referred to him as Lord Stirling. At Trenton he received the surrender of a Hessian regiment. On 26 June 1777, at Matouchin (now called Metuchen), he awaited an attack, contrary to Washington’s orders. His position was turned and his division defeated, losing two guns and 150 men in the Battle of Short Hills. Subsequent battles at Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth cemented his reputation for bravery and sound tactical judgment. At the battles of Brandywine and Germantown he acted with bravery and discretion. At the battle of Monmouth he displayed tactical judgment in posting his batteries, and repelled with heavy loss an attempt to turn his flank. In January 1780, he led an ineffective raid against Staten Island. Lord Stirling also played a part in exposing the Conway Cabal, a conspiracy of disaffected officers looking to remove Washington as Commander-in Chief and replace him with General Horatio Gates.

His untimely death in 1783, just months before the official end of the war is the probable reason that he is not as well known today as many of the other generals. Still, his significant contributions made him one of the most important figures of the American Revolution. He was buried at Trinity Churchyard, New York City.