In the summer of 1998 the State of New Jersey Department of Commerce's Division of Travel and Tourism published a sixteen-page pamphlet entitled A Revolutionary Time: The Guide to New Jersey's Revolutionary War Trail, free copies of which are available. Like the online tour below, the Guide begins with the New Jersey Campaign of November and December 1776 and concludes with Washington's "Farewell Address" of October 1783. The Department of Environmental Protections Division of Parks and Forestry produced the Guides content.
Immediately after the fall of Fort Washington, General Howe ordered General Earl Charles Cornwallis to take Fort Lee on the opposite side of the Hudson River. Cornwallis crossed the Hudson with approximately 4,000 soldiers on the night of 19-20 November 1776. He landed at Closter, nearly opposite Yonkers, New York and began marching his troops south along the Palisades towards Fort Lee.
Beginning in the 1890s, local historians claimed the Blackledge-Kearney House, located directly on the water, had been taken by the British and used as Cornwallis' headquarters on that night in November 1776. In the decade which followed, as the Palisades Interstate Park Commission took control of the fishing village of Closter Landing and renamed it Alpine Boat Basin, local preservationists argued persuasively that this house had historical significance and must be maintained. In 1909 the Palisades Interstate Park was dedicated and the house formally named "The Old Cornwallis Headquarters." In 1933 the New Jersey Federation of Women's Clubs prevailed upon the Park Commission to open "Cornwallis Headquarters" to the public as a historic house museum.
At the time of the Bicentennial of the Declaration, however, more scholarly and thorough historical research suggested that Cornwallis may have headquartered elsewhere, a mile or two to the south. Renamed the Blackledge-Kearney House as a result, this historic structure is now interpreted as an extraordinary example of early American domestic architecture.
Lee Historic Park
With the loss of Fort Washington, it became impossible for the Americans to control shipping up and down the Hudson. General Washington therefore ordered a retreat from Fort Lee and a withdrawal of the Continental Army into central New Jersey. That work was far from complete, however, when word came in the early morning of 20 November that the British had invaded New Jersey.
General Nathanael Greene was not able to abandon Fort Lee as planned. Washington had ordered him to destroy all supplies so that they would not fall into the hands of the British. When Greene heard, however, of the proximity of the British forces, he ordered the garrison evacuated immediately and the troops to march in double time to Hackensack. They did so, moving through present day Fort Lee, Leonia and Englewood, before reaching the main body of the Continental Army. In their haste, Greene's troops not only left a large number of cannon at Fort Lee, but also significant supplies of ammunition and food. Even so, they only narrowly escaped capture by the British at New Bridge (see below). Cornwallis held the upper hand; the Americans were in disorderly retreat; and the Revolutionary cause was deeply demoralized.
As it does at the Blackledge-Kearney House, the New Jersey section of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission administers Fort Lee Historic Park. The Park is set on 33 landscaped acres atop the Palisades, with spectacular overlooks of the Hudson, Manhattan, and the George Washington Bridge. The historian or tourist will find a Visitor Center and Museum, reconstructed 18th century soldier hut and campsite, and reconstructed gun batteries. One quarter mile from the historic site, the Park merges into the natural beauty of the Palisades.
The Visitor Center and Museum provides information on the role of Fort Lee in the American Revolution. There are two floors of audio-visual interpretation of the site, narrative exhibits, and a brief film, which presents the story of how General George Washington was forced to evacuate the area in November of 1776 and begin his famous retreat through New Jersey. In addition to its historic features, the facility has a 204-seat auditorium (available for rental), bookstore, restrooms, first aid, lost & found, water, public phone, and information services. The main floor is barrier free.
County Historical Society
On 20 November 1776, General Nathanael Greene and his Fort Lee troops escaped General Cornwallis and the British army only because they were able to cross the Hackensack River a few hours before the British took control of New Bridge (now River Edge), New Jersey. General Washington, who rode out to Fort Lee to accompany the troops, later wrote that the Cornwallis' strategy was to force the Fort Lee troops south into the peninsula between the Hackensack and Hudson Rivers (which stretches from present day Englewood and Teaneck south to Jersey City and Bayonne). On 21 November, Cornwallis ordered New Bridge captured and by 25 November, the British were encamped there.
Thomas Paine, who had been with the Americans at Fort Lee, saw that the Patriot cause -- after successive defeats in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Harlem, White Plains, Fort Washington, and now Fort Lee -- was at low ebb. Remaining with the Continental Army at Newark, he began to write a series of essays entitled The American Crisis, which he hoped would renew the spirit of American independence much as his Common Sense had given irresistible voice to it just eleven months earlier. Paine did not disappoint. "These are the times that try men's souls, he wrote, the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love, and thanks of man and woman."
For additional information on the New Jersey Campaign of 1776, the Revolutionary War historian should visit the New Bridge Landing Historic Park and its village of historic structures on the west bank of the Hackensack River in River Edge. Kevin W. Wright has researched, written, and posted to the web site of the Bergen County Historical Society an excellent account of the role of New Bridge in the Revolution.
Chief among the historic structures is the Steuben House, which was standing at New Bridge when Generals Washington and Greene slipped away from the British on 20 November. Also at New Bridge Landing is the rebuilt Campbell-Christie House. The Bergen County Historical Society exhibits its museum collections in these two historic houses. Kevin Wright has also researched, written, and posted to the Society's web site thorough, scholarly histories of both the Steuben House and the Campbell-Christie House (see below). The Society's library and archival collections are housed at the Johnson Public Library in nearby Hackensack.
Located on the west bank of the Hackensack River, at the site of a 1744 bridge across the river, Steuben House is named for General Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the German military officer who trained American troops at Valley Forge. Owned by von Steuben for just five years (1783-88), the historic house was built by the Zabriskie family in two sections, the first in 1752 and the larger in 1765. It stands at New Bridge Landing, in the 18th century a strategic point on the Hackensack, the place where overland commerce was transferred to barges and floated down the river to Newark Bay. New Bridge remained the first river crossing on the Hackensack until 1790. At the time of the outbreak of the American Revolution, the Zabriskie family enjoyed a very prosperous business here.
Kevin Wright describes in detail the preservation movement which saved the Steuben House and made its interpretation possible. A Steuben House Commission was created in March 1926 to acquire Baron Steuben's Jersey Estate at New Bridge. The State of New Jersey took title to the historic house and one acre of ground in June 1928. The Steuben House was renovated and opened to the public in September 1939. It became the Museum of the Bergen County Historical Society, a volunteer organization organized in 1902. The Society's exhibits emphasize Bergen County's earliest settlers, with Dutch furnishings, made or used in the County between 1680 and 1860. Prehistoric artifacts of the Hackensack and Tappan Indians, including an oak dugout canoe, are also exhibited. The Steuben House, a State Historic Site and a National Historic Register property, is owned and staffed by the State of New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Parks & Forestry.
House and Old Bridge at New Bridge
It appears likely that Jacob Campbell built the Campbell-Christie House in New Milford, Bergen County, about the time of his marriage in 1774. It appears near certain that over the next 200 years its several owners utilized the property as a tavern, a blacksmith shop, and a farm house. When the house was threatened with demolition in 1977, the county government regarded it as a structure of sufficient architectural and historical significance to merit disassembling and relocating it to New Bridge Landing Historic Park.
Kevin Wright describes the restored Campbell-Christie House as a particularly fine example of Bergen Dutch sandstone architecture, a vernacular style popularly called 'Dutch Colonial' and often seen in northern New Jersey. Its interior design is the classic, center hall, double-pile floor plan. Its exterior is notable for its simple Georgian symmetry; twelve-over-twelve, double-hung window sash; and gambrel roof. Bergen County's Department of Parks, Division of Cultural and Historical Affairs, leases the house to the Bergen County Historical Society, which uses it to exhibit a portion of its museum collection and conduct public programs and special events.
King Tavern House and Museum
By 29 November 1776 Washington had withdrawn from Newark, New Jersey and moved south, across the Raritan River, to New Brunswick. On 1 December, the foremost units of General Cornwallis' troops began firing on the Americans as they destroyed the bridge over the Raritan. Washington withdrew again, positioning a portion of his army in Princeton, but marching most of it all the way to Trenton, on the Delaware River. Cornwallis, now occupying New Brunswick, repeatedly asked permission of General Howe to advance on Princeton and Trenton. After some delay, Howe concurred and on 7 December, the British marched toward Princeton. A day later the entire Continental Army retreated across the Delaware to Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
As Cornwallis' redcoats pushed Washington's Continentals back, first into central New Jersey and then in Pennsylvania, the New Jersey state government withdrew from Trenton and re-established itself at the Indian King Tavern House in Haddonfield. Hoag Levins has created a fine web page for this historic site, which served a brief tenure as temporary home to New Jersey's Revolutionary War government. It was in the second-floor assembly room here that New Jersey declared itself in accord with the Declaration of Independence and a free state among the thirteen United States.
When the British occupied Philadelphia in the fall and winter of 1777-78, however, their military control extended to Haddonfield and beyond. It was a harsh time, as British troops demanded and took by force whatever supplies they believed they needed. In the summer of 1778, when the British left the Delaware Valley and returned to New York, normalcy began to return to Haddonfield, where the Indian King Tavern had already taken a place as one of the most significant places associated with New Jersey's participation in the Revolutionary War. In 1903, the State of New Jersey purchased the tavern property as the first State Historic Site. The Indian King Tavern and Museum remains today a State Historic Site, administered by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Parks & Forestry.
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