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Old Bergen

Chapter XXII.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

ON the evening of the same day great alarm was caused by a heavy cannonading down the Bay, and Bergen Heights were lined with patriots who were anxiously watching every movement of the enemy. It was discovered, however, that the great commotion was caused by the arrival of Lord Howe, who had sailed from England with reinforcements for his brother the general.

Meanwhile, matters were shaping themselves that ultimately led to the entire independence of the colonies. The Resolution of Independence, by the Continental Congress, was received by the New Jersey Committee, July 17th, 1776, and the following Preamble and Resolution were adopted:

Whereas the Honorable Continental Congress, have declared the United Colonies free and independent states, We deputies of New Jersey in Provincial Congress, Resolve and declare, that we will support the freedom and independence of said states, with our lives and fortune, and with the whole force of New Jersey.
This action on the part of the state authorities cemented still more firmly the provincial forces, and they became more determined to resist the unjust demands of the mother country, pledging themselves to resist to the utmost, and oppose and destroy if possible, any force brought against them. Many projects were suggested to this end, and notable among them was one of Ephraim Anderson, adjutant to Second New Jersey Battalion, who conceived the idea of destroying the enemy's fleet in New York harbor, and submitted to Congress his plan for accomplishing it. It was favorably entertained, and Washington was instructed to aid him in carrying it into effect.

Anderson commenced at once the construction of fire ships, with which the fleet was to be attacked. At the same time an attack was to be made on the British camp on Staten Island, by troops from Mercer's flying camp, and others stationed at Bergen, under Major Knowlton. As Gen. Putnam was engaged in a plan for obstructing the passage of the enemy's ships up the Hudson at Fort Washington, he entered into this scheme with great ardor. He wrote to Gen. Gates:

The enemy's fleet now lies in the Bay close under Staten Island. Their troops possess no land here but the Island. Is it not strange that these invincible troops are so fond of islands and peninsulas, and dare not put their feet on the main ? . . . We are preparing fourteen fire ships, to go into their fleet.
On the 31st of July, Anderson wrote to the President of Congress:
I have been for some tune past very assiduous in the preparation of fire ships. . . . In my next I hope to give you a particular account of a general conflagration, ...
But he was disappointed, for it was not possible to construct a sufficient number of fire ships in time. Likewise, the recruits for the flying camp coming in slowly, the contemplated attack on the camp at Staten Island had to be abandoned. Still, a partial night attack was twice attempted by Mercer and Knowlton, but both failed.

The British army continued to gather, until at the beginning of August, there were in the vicinity of New York about thirty thousand men. On the 17th, Washington received word that three days' provisions had been cooked, and many of the troops had gone on board the transports, indicating that some important movement was to be undertaken.

At this time a gallant attempt was made to destroy the Phoenix and Rose -- which had been threatening the shores of the Hudson since their passage up the river-by means of two of the fire ships. Although the attempt failed in its immediate object, one of the tenders to these vessels was burned, and the very daring of the attempt determined the commander of the vessels to join the rest of the fleet in the lower bay, and on the 18th of August, he made sail early in the morning and accomplished his purpose. On the 21st, Brig. Gen. Wm. Livingston wrote Washington:

Having noticed unusual activity in the enemy's camp on Staten Island, I sent over a spy at midnight, who reported that twenty thousand men had embarked to make an attack on Long Island and up the Hudson, and that fifteen thousand had remained on Staten Island, to attack Bergen Point, Elizabethport and Amboy. The spy reported he had heard the orders and conversation of the Generals.
It can readily be imagined that the situation was deemed most grave. To discover and thwart the designs of the British commander now occupied the utmost energies of Washington and his generals; and from the shores of "Old Bergen" anxious eyes were continually peering through glasses to discover the first intimation of his purpose. Likewise, the presence of the Tory or royalist element, who were quite numerous throughout the territory, made it necessary to exercise additional care and watchfulness, in order that they should be prevented from conveying to the enemy any knowledge of existing conditions, or of any intended movement of the patriots. Every endeavor was made to apprehend the disaffected, and prevent their communicating with the British.

At last the purpose of the enemy became evident. In the latter part of August, Clinton crossed the Narrows from Staten Island to Long Island, and the battle of Long Island shortly followed, resulting in the defeat of the American army, which withdrew to Harlem Heights, leaving New York City in complete possession of the English. This necessitated the greatest watchfulness on the part of the Americans at Paulus Hook, not only to prevent its capture, but because of the overbearing and aggressive action of the Tories among them, who were much emboldened by the success of the British arms. Consequently, stringent measures were adopted, and all the adherents of the royal cause were obliged to seek refuge in New York.

The following letter, dated August 8, 1776, was sent by the general commanding at New York to the president of the Provincial Congress in New Jersey:

I have received repeated information that a number of persons, known to be inimical to the cause of the American States, have removed to your State, and some very dangerous characters, lurking in the neighborhood of Hackensack, and what is called English Neighborhood, with intent, no doubt from its situation, of communicating with, and aiding our enemies. Urging stringent measures-as there is the greatest reason for believing, that the enemy intend to begin their operations in a very few days, and that with a very powerful force-you are urged to adopt effective measures, for furnishing troops and equipments.
During the active military operations above New York City, which culminated in the surrender of Fort Washington, November 16, nothing of any importance occurred within the territory of "Old Bergen," except the reception and assignment of troops, and constant watchfulness to guard against any sudden or unexpected movement on the part of the enemy.


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