Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Alexander, William

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ALEXANDER, William, called Lord Stirling, soldier, b. in New York city in 1726; d. in Albany, 15 Jan., 1783. He engaged in the provision business with his mother, the widow of David Provost. In connection with his business young Alexander subsequently joined the British army in the commissariat department, and became aide-de-camp to Gov. Shirley. In 1757 he prosecuted his claim to the earldom of Stirling before the house of lords, without success. After his return in 1761 he married the daughter of Philip Livingston. He held the office of surveyor-general, and was also a member of the provincial council. The former office had belonged to his father, James Alexander, who, formerly an adherent of the pretender, had come to America, risen to be colonial secretary in New York, and died in 1756, leaving a large fortune. He was an ardent patriot, and entered the revolutionary army as colonel of the battalion of east New Jersey in October, 1775. He distinguished himself by the capture of a British armed transport, for which exploit congress, in March, 1776, appointed him a brigadier-general. At the battle of Long Island, 26 Aug., 1776. his brigade, ordered by Gen. Putnam to attack a greatly superior force, was nearly cut to pieces, and he himself was taken prisoner. He was soon exchanged, and in February, 1777, was promoted a major-general. When Lee marched to succor Philadelphia in December, 1776, Stirling was left in command at New York. At Trenton he received the surrender of a Hessian regiment. On 24 June, 1777, at Matouchin (now called Metuchin), he awaited an attack, contrary to Washington's orders; his position was turned and his division defeated, losing two guns and 150 men. At the battle 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 1779, when in command in New Jersey, he surprised a British force at Paulus' Hook. In 1781 he commanded at Albany. He died of gout, five days after the preliminaries of peace were agreed upon. Lord Stirling was one of the founders of Columbia college, called King's college before the revolution, and became its first governor. His journey to England in 1756 was undertaken in order to give testimony in behalf of Gen. Shirley, who was charged with neglect of duty. He wrote “The Conduct of Major-General Shirley, briefly stated,” a pamphlet published about the time of the investigation; and “An Account of the Comet of June and July, 1770.” He was proficient in the sciences of mathematics and astronomy. See “Life of William Alexander, Earl of Stirling,” by his grandson, William Alexander Duer, in the collections of the New Jersey Historical Society (1847); and Charles Rogers's “House of Alexander” (1877).