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Old Elizabethport. Ancient Tavern and Wharf. Fortification of the Point. Naval Expedition. Franklin Stove.
The distance is about two miles, and so nearly adjacent are the houses along the road, that it may be said the village extends all the way to the Point. The old wharf or landing is about three quarters of a mile northeast of the present bustling port, and only a solitary dwelling, the traces of the causeway, and the apparition, at low water, of some of the logs of the ancient wharf, constitute the remains of the Revolution there, except slight indications of the works thrown up by the Americans in the rear. Making a journey in a direct line through some shrub oaks and a field of tangled buckwheat, I visited and sketched the old tavern, now the property of Mr. Isham, of New York, where many of the stirring scenes of the Revolution occurred. There American and British officers were alternately quartered, from 1776 until the close of the war, and in that house the corpse of Mr. Caldwell was laid while a wagon was procured to convey it to the town. In front of it is a flat shore, overflowed at high tide, across which was a substantial causeway about seventy-five rods in length, with a wharf at the end. Here was the landing-place of troops passing and repassing to and from Staten Island, closely contiguous; and from this wharf extended the bridge of boats over which the British retreated after the battle of Springfield. There Washington embarked in the barge prepared to convey him to New arms, York, to be inaugurated the first President of the United States, and in the old tav1789 ern he breakfasted that morning. When the British fleet appeared off Sandy Hook with the troops of General Howe, in June, 1776, great alarm spread through New Jersey; for, as the Americans then had military occupation of New York city, it was supposed the enemy would land on the Jersey coast. Governor Livingston, at the head of the New Jersey militia, established his camp at Elizabethtown Point, and caused a fortification to be constructed by digging ditches and throwing up breast-works, which extended from the old to the new Point, and on which a few cannons were mounted. These works were never of any material use, and hardly a vestige of them remains. From the Point several water expeditions were fitted out, for the narrow and tortuous channel, and low, marshy shore protected the place from the visits of large vessels of war. One of these expeditions was under the command of Elias Dayton and William Alexander. The latter is better known in our history as Lord Stirling, and was Governor Shirley's military secretary at Albany twenty years before. Informed that a British transport and provision ship was on the coast, the Committee of Safety at Elizabethtown ordered four armed boats to attempt its capture. They came in sight of the vessel about forty miles from Sandy Hook. The men in the boats were all concealed under hatches, except two in each, unarm
OLD TAvrBN At Elizabethport."
* This view is looking eastward. In the distance, on the right, is seen a vessel, at the entrance of Newark Bay, and the land beyond is the high ground intervening between it and Jersey City. In one of the rooms of the old tavern is a Franklin stove, which has probably been a tenant there ever since it came from the foundery. I give a sketch of it, not only because it is a relic of the time, but because it doubtless shows the form of the stove as invented by Dr. Franklin in 1742,” before an “improvement” was made. On its front, in raised letters, are the words “Ross and Bird's Hibernia Foundry, 1782.” Ross had a foundery at Elizabethtown in 1774, as appears by the inscription upon the dinner-bell of Sir William Johnson, now in the belfry of the old Caughnawaga Church at Fonda. See note, page 233.
* Franklin says, in reference to this invention, “Governor Thomas was so pleased with the construction of this stove, that he offered to give me a patent for the sole vending of them for a term of years; but I declined it, from a principle which has ever weighed with me on such occasions, viz., that, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by an invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generally.” A London iron-monger made some alterations, which Franklin says "hurt its operation,” got a patent for it there, and made a small fortune by it.
Capture of a Provision Ship. Privateering. “London Trading.” “Liberty Hall.” Designs against Governor Livingston.
ed, who managed the oars. The enemy mistook them for fishing vessels, and allowed them to come along side. At a preconcerted signal, the hatches were raised, the armed Americans poured upon the deck of the ship, and in a few minutes she was their prize, hardly a show of resistance having been made. She was taken in triumph to Elizabethtown Point, where her cargo was landed. This exploit was performed in the summer of 1775, soon after the battle on Bunker Hill. Some privateering expeditions were fitted out here and at Amboy during the war; but, with the exception of the invasion already detailed, there were few military operations there. There are a few blemishes in the general good character for Whiggery, claimed by Elizabethtown. During the war there was a great deal of “London trading,” or supplying the enemy with provisions and other things, carried on there. The high price paid by the British on Staten Island tempted even the most ardent Whigs to put money in their purses by the traffic. Many took their pay in British goods, and actually opened stores in the village with articles thus obtained. Governor Livingston, alluding to the practice, said, “The village now consists of unknown, unrecommended strangers, guiltylooking Tories, and very knavish Whigs.” Having an hour to spare on my return to the village, I walked out to old “Liberty Hall,” the former residence of Governor Livingston, now the property of Mr. John Kean. It is a fine old mansion, imbowered in shrubs and overshadowed by venerable trees. It is situated upon the left of the Springfield Turnpike, beyond the Elizabeth River, and about three fourths of a mile north of the rail-way station in the village. Governor Livingston was an active partisan, and during the whole war was continually employed in public duties or in wielding his pen in favor of the Republican cause. For this reason he was extremely obnoxious to the enemy, and particularly to the Tories, whom he cordially hated and despised. Several attempts were made to abduct him, but they were all unsuccessful. It was also said that Sir Henry Clinton offered a bounty for his life, if he could not be taken alive, and that a prominent Tory of New Jersey had been solicited to assassinate him for a price. Of this Governor Livingston accused Clinton, in a letter. The latter did not deny the charge, but, in a very discourteous reply, said, “Had I a soul capable of harboring so infamous an idea as assassination, you, sir, at least, would have nothing to fear; for, be assured, I should not blacken myself with so foul a crime to obtain so trifling an end.” Sir Henry, however, thought the “end not too trifling” to fit out an expedition for the express purpose of capturing the “rebel governor.” It was midnight, on the 28th of February, 1779, that a party of British troops, sent by Clinton from New York, landed at Elizabethtown Point, and,
* Some time after the death of Governor Livingston this property was purchased by Lord Bolingbroke, who, under the assumed name of John Belesis, ran away from England with a daughter of Baron Hompasch, a German general. She was at a boarding school there, and Bolingbroke had a wife living. He married the girl here. She died in England in 1848. The grandmother of the present proprietor, Susan, the daughter of Peter Van Burgh Livingston, bought the farm of Lord Bolingbroke, and it has been in possession of the family ever since. Her first husband was John Kean, a member of Congress from South Carolina from 1785 to 1787, and was first cashier of the first United States Bank, chartered by an act of Congress passed February 8th, 1791. Her second husband was Count Niemcewicz, a Polish nobleman.
Scenes at “Liberty Hall.” Spirit of Governor Livingston's Daughters. Sketch of the Life of Livingston.
marching directly to “Liberty Hall,” burst open the doors, and shouted vociferously for “the damned rebel governor.” Fortunately, the governor had left home some hours before, to pass the night with a friend, a few miles distant. After becoming convinced that he was not there, they demanded his papers. Those of the greatest importance (his recent correspondence with Washington, and with Congress and the state officers) were in the box of his sulky, in his parlor. This box the officer in command was about to seize, when Liv. ingston's daughter Catharine, a girl of great spirit and presence of mind, represented to him that the box contained her private property, and appealed to his courtesy as a gentleman and a soldier to protect it for her. A guard was placed over it, and she then led the men to the library, where they filled their foraging bags with worthless law papers. After threatening to burn the house, they returned to Elizabethtown, burned one or two dwellings in the village, and then departed for New York."
Mr. Sedgwick relates a tradition connected with the family of Governor Livingston. At
the time of the invasion, when the village of Conmecticut Farms was burned, Governor Livingston was absent from home on official duty. The family had spent the day in great alarm, for immediately in front of their dwelling the smoke and flames of the conflagration of that village were distinctly seen. Late in the evening several British officers came to the house, told them that their troops were retreating, and proposed to pass the night there. The family felt secure from marauders while such protectors were present, and retired to bed. About midnight they
were aroused. The of
ficers were called away,
and soon afterward some
drunken soldiers rushed into the hall, swearing that they would burn the “rebel house.” There were none but women in the house. The maid servant fastened herself in the kitchen, and the ladies of the family locked themselves in another room. The ruffians discovered their hiding-place, and, fearing to exasperate them by refusing to come out, one of the governor's daughters boldly opened the door. A drunken soldier seized her by the arm, and at the same moment she seized him by the collar with a force that alarmed him. At that instant a gleam of
light illumined the hall
and fell upon the white
dress of the lady. The
soldier staggered back,
exclaiming, “God it's Mrs. Caldwell, that we killed to-day !” They soon left the house.
* Sedgwick's Life of William Livingston, p. 322.
* William Livingston was descended from the old Scotch family of that name, whose first representative in this country was Robert, the “first lord of the manor” upon the Hudson. He was born in November, 1723, and graduated in Yale College in 1741. He was well educated, and possessed many solid as well as brilliant attainments in law and literature. He early espoused the cause of the colonists, and, having removed from New York to New Jersey, was elected a delegate to the first Continental Congress from that state. In 1776, after the people of New Jersey had sent Governor Franklin, under a strong guard, to Connecticut, Mr. Livingston was elected chief magistrate of the state; and such were his acknowledged talents, and republican virtue, and the love of the people for him, that he was annually elected to that office until his death. In 1787 he was a delegate to the convention that formed the Federal Constitution; and, after being actively employed in public life for almost twenty years, he died at “Liberty Hall,” near Elizabethtown, July 25th, 1790, aged sixty-seven years. The silhouette here given is copied from one in Sedgwick's Life of Livingston, which he says was probably taken from life, about 1773. I have engraved for this work a genealogical tree of the Livingston family, prepared by the late Henry Alexander Livingston, of Poughkeepsie, which includes the names of all the most important members of that family and collateral branches, beginning with the Earl of Linlithgow, the seventh Lord Livingston. It is a curious document, exhibiting
Arrival at Middlebrook. Place of the Encampment of the American Army. Howe's Stratagem. Skirmishes.
I left Elizabethtown in the cars, at about three o'clock, and arrived at Middlebrook, a pleasant little village on the Raritan, toward sunset, passing on the way Scotch Plains and the thriving town of Plainfield. The road passes over an almost level country, and, though the soil is light and sandy, thrift appeared on every side. Middlebrook and Boundbrook lie close together, and are included in one village. Here, toward the last of May, 1777, Washington encamped his army, after breaking up his cantonments at Morristown. His troops rapidly augmented; and when, in June, General Howe began to show some disposition to open the summer campaign, the American army mustered about fourteen thousand effective men. They were strongly posted upon the Heights of Middlebrook, in the rear of the village, near the place of the winter encampment in 1778–9, which will be presently noticed. Washington suspected Howe's design to be to make an attempt to capture Philadelphia. He concentrated the Northern forces on the Hudson; a strong division under Arnold was posted on the Delaware, and a considerable force was under his immediate command at Middlebrook. General Howe had encamped at New Brunswick, ten miles distant, and endeavored to draw Washington out from his strong position, into a general engagement upon the plains. But the chief would not hazard a battle while his forces were so divided. Howe remained two days at New Brunswick; but, concluding that Washington was too strongly posted among the hills to be attacked with impunity, the British commander sought to accomplish by stratagem what he had failed to do by open and obvious movements. For this purpose June 14. he advanced rapidly toward Somerset Court-house, feigning a design to cross the 1777. Delaware. Failing to draw Washington from his post by this maneuver, he made another feint, a few days afterward, which succeeded better. He suddenly retreated, first , June 19. toward New Brunswick," and then to Amboy,b and even sent some detachments "June * over to Staten Island. Partly deceived by these movements, and hoping to reap some advantage by harassing the British rear, Washington sent strong detachments after the retreating enemy, and also advanced with his whole force to Quibbletown (now New Market), five or six miles from Middlebrook. This was exactly what Howe desired to accomplish, and, accordingly, on the night of the 25th, he suddenly recalled his troops from Staten Island and Amboy, and early the next morning marched rapidly toward the American lines, hoping to cut off their retreat to Middlebrook, and thus bring on a general action. Washington was too quick and vigilant for Howe, and reached his strong position again. The advanced guard of the British fell in with Lord Stirling's division, and a warm skirmish ensued. On the approach of Cornwallis with a considerable force, Stirling retreated to his camp with inconsiderable loss. Other skirmishes ensued, but neither party suffered much. At Westfield the British forces wheeled, and, marching back to Amboy, passed over to Staten Island, leaving the Americans in the quiet possession of New Jersey.
It was on the gentle slope from the plain to the steep acclivities of the mountain in the rear of Middlebrook, that seven brigades of the American army were hutted during the winter of 1779–80. After the battle of Monmouth," the American army crossed the June s. Hudson River, and took post chiefly in Westchester county. The head-quarters 1778. of Washington were at White Plains. In the mean while the Count d'Estaing had arrived at Sandy Hook with a French fleet; but, being unable to pass the bar with his heavy ships, to attack Lord Howe in the bay, he sailed eastward to co-operate with General Sullivan in a proposed attack upon Newport, on Rhode Island. Of this expedition, which proved unsuccessful, I shall hereafter write.
Washington continued at White Plains until late in autumn, suspecting the design of Sir Henry Clinton to be to make a movement eastward. Sir Henry gave currency to the reports that such were his intentions, until Washington moved his head-quarters to Freder
many of the most distinguished names that occur in our Revolutionary history. I have also copies of the portraits of John and Mary Livingston, the parents of Robert, the “first lord of the manor,” which were painted in Holland some two hundred years ago. These, with the genealogy, will be found in another part of this work.
Clinton's Operations in New Jersey. Disposition of the American Forces. Encampment at Middlebrook. Pluckemin.
icsburg, near the Connecticut line, and turned his attention decidedly to the protection of the eastern coast. Clinton then sent foraging parties into New Jersey, and ravaged the whole country, from the Hudson to the Raritan, and beyond. The abandonment of the siege of Newport, the return of Howe's fleet to New York, and the entire withdrawal of forces from the east by Clinton, except those stationed upon Rhode Island, convinced Washington that the British commander had no further designs in that direction, and he prepared to put his army into the most advantageous winter-quarters. Nine brigades were stationed on the west side of the Hudson, exclusive of the garrison at West Point. One of these was at Smith's Cove, in the rear of Haverstraw, one at Elizabethtown, and the other seven were at Middlebrook. Six brigades were cantoned on the east side of the Hudson and at West Point. One was at West Point, two were at Continental Village, a hamlet near Peekskill, and three in the vicinity of Danbury, in Connecticut. The artillery was at Pluckemin, in Bedminster county, New Jersey." The head-quarters of the chief were in the vicinity of Middlebrook. Knox, Greene, and Steuben were among the general officers that accompanied him; and the ladies of several of the officers, among whom was Mrs. Washington, enlivened the camp by their presence during the winter. The place of encampment was about three fourths of a mile northwest from the village. Log huts were completed, for the use of the soldiers, in February, after they had suffered exposure under canvas tents for several weeks. The huts, according to the description of Dr. Thacher, who was there, were made very comfortable by filling the interstices between the logs with mud, as log houses in our Western and Southwestern states are now made. The huts were arranged in straight lines, forming a regular and compact village. The officers' huts were arranged in front of the line, according to their rank, with kitchens in the rear; and the whole was similar in form to a tent encampment. Remains of these are still found in the fields where the encampment was. I could not ascertain where Washington was quartered; and, as far as I could learn by inquiries, there is only one house remaining in the neighborhood which was occupied by any of the general officers at that time, and that is the dwelling of Mr. Staats, where Major-general Baron Steuben had his quarters. From a remark by Dr. Thacher, in his Military Journal (page 156), I infer that Washington's quarters were at or near Pluckemin, a few miles from the camp. The doctor speaks of an event that occurred “near head-quarters, at Pluckemin.” In the evening of my arrival at Middlebrook, I called on Mrs. Polly Van Norden, a small, but vigorous old lady, eighty-four years of age. She lived near the Monmouth battle-ground at the time of the conflict there, and was well acquainted with the sufferings of the Whigs in that region from the depredations of the desperate band of Tories called the Pine Robbers. She was a woman of strong but uncultivated mind, and became excited with feelings of the
1 Pluckemin lies at the base of a high mountain, about six miles northwest of Somerville. There the American army halted on the 4th of January, 1777 (the day after the battle of Princeton), on its way to Morristown. In the village burial-ground is the grave of Captain Leslie, of the British army, who was mortally wounded at Princeton. Mr. Custis, in his Recollections of the Life of Washington, says, “It was while the commander-in-chief reined up his horse, upon approaching the spot, in a plowed field, where lay the gallant Colonel Harslet, mortally wounded, that he perceived some British soldiers supporting a wounded officer, and, upon inquiring his name and rank, was answered, “Captain Leslie.' Dr. Benjamin Rush, who formed a part of the general's suite, earnestly asked, ‘A son of the Earl of Levin?’ to which the soldiers replied in the affirmative. The doctor then addressed the general-in-chief: “I beg your excellency to permit this wounded officer to be placed under my care, that I may return, in however small a degree, a part of the obligation I owe to his worthy father for the many kindnesses received at his hands while a student at Edinburgh.” The request was immediately granted; but, alas! poor Leslie was soon past all surgery.” He died the same evening, after receiving every possible kindness and attention, and was buried the next day at Pluckemin, with the honors of war. His troops, as they lowered the body to the soldier's last rest, shed tears of sorrow over the remains of their much-loved commander. On a plain monument erected to his memory is the following inscription: “In memory of Captain WILLIAM Leslie, of the seventh British regiment, son of the Earl of Levin, in Scotland. He fell, January 3d, 1777, aged 26 years, at the battle of Princerox. His friend, Benjamin Rush, M.D., of Philadelphia, hath caused this stone to be erected, as a mark of his esteem for his worth, and respect for his family.”