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Erskine, Robert

(1735 - 1780)

Colonel Robert Erskine Born in Scotland in 1735, Robert Erskine was an inventor and engineer of some renown in his native land. He attended the University of Edinburg 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.

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

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

Once the war broke out in ernest 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 enginer, designed a tetrahedron-shaped marine Chevaux-de-Frise; esentially 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 Gen. Washington and remain historically valuable today.

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

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