[Editor's Note: Richard J. Koke authored a series of five articles that appeared in Volumes 19 -23 of the OCHS Journal between 1990 and 1994. These articles will be presented in multiple sections over the next few years.]
War in the Clove
On Friday, September 12, northeastern New Jersey was again the center of a British offensive when four enemy columns from the New York garrison, variously estimated at between two and five thousand men, moved into Bergen and into the lower Passaic from Staten Island and landings along the Hudson; one, advancing from Fort Lee, pushed through Hackensack and along the Paramus road to Zabriskie's mill (now Arcola) and, according to one account, "from their motions seem determined to attempt the western pass of the mountains."
The British in Hackensack and the threat to Ramapo was quickly relayed to Malcom and he immediately ordered Burr to march with half of the regiment to Paramus to contest the enemy while he remained behind to collect what militia he could and follow in the morning. He sent three expresses to Putnam urging that troops be sent over, but two of his messages, so he said, were treated with indifference; and writing to Washington on Saturday, was not hesitant to complain that Putnam's regard of the post as of little consequence was likely to do them harm.
Malcom surmised the chief purpose of the British was to forage, but problems easily turned up. He wanted to remove endangered livestock and supplies, but he lacked men and was wary of the disaffected; he tried to get wagons to move the stores, if pushed, but the quartermaster department was poorly managed, and on top of it all, the militia was refusing to turn out unless there was a stronger Continental presence.
Young Burr, on his part, sixteen miles into New Jersey, was up and about by 5:00 on Sunday morning, the fourteenth, and from the home Of Anne de Visme - mother of the cultivated Theodosia who in five years was to become his bride - sent word to Malcom that a large body of the enemy was at Zabriskie's mill at the lower edge of Paramus, otherwise, things were much the same, but he was inclined to think they had underestimated British strength. It was impossible to secure himself at any fixed post and the best he and his men could do was act as a party of observation; his design: to pick up stragglers so they could learn something of the British movements. Not one of the militia was with him; some had appeared the night before, but were gone by morning. And he did add a hopeful postscript: "Any thing from Genl Putnam will be truly Acceptable."
Though Malcom considered the initial reaction at Peekskill to his supplications as of small concern, Putnam, nonetheless, was quick to react and on Sunday ordered Alexander McDougall to cross the river with four regiments and wrote to Governor Clinton, suggesting the militia be called out to join McDougall. The design of the enemy was uncertain, but, whatever, there was no good to it; their intent probably to alarm the Jerseys and create a diversion in favor of Howe and also indulge in a grand forage. That night, shortly before daybreak on Monday, the fifteenth, Burr surprised an enemy outpost picket "below Tappan" stationed at the schoolhouse of the Hackensack teacher, Robert Timpany, and in a bayonet charge killed sixteen, wounded seven and captured the rest, save three who escaped.
Everybody was moving about on Monday. Malcom and the remainder of his regiment and "a few” of the Orange militia marched to Paramus, McDougall moved down to Tappan, and the British pulled back from Zabriskie's mill and Hackensack and concentrated their entire force at New Bridge and lower Schraalenburgh with droves of livestock. The four-day raid was as brief as it was sudden. At 3:00 on Tuesday morning the British were pulling out, the rear guard at daylight, and they again abandoned Bergen by way of the landing at Fort Lee and the tip of Bergen Point.
The long shadow of Aaron Burr and his riveting presence in the American mind have unfortunately eclipsed William Malcom and his identity as regimental commanding officer in the activities of the British raid. Burr's biographers in narrating his association with the regiment, one embellishing on the other, have all helped to foster a persistent and erroneous assumption that Malcom was not around, and that Burr, not Malcom, was in charge of the regiment at the time of the enemy incursion - so much so, that even a bronze tablet erected in 1924 to mark the site of Suffern's tavern designates the building as headquarters "of Colonel Aaron Burr, commanding the troops guarding the Ramapo Pass." The peculiarities of this belief is traceable to its original source in two well-publicized accounts detailing Burr's much-lauded surprise of the British outpost that were contributed in 1813 and 1814 - nearly four decades later - by George Gardiner and Robert Hunter, former members of the regiment, and published in 1836 by Matthew L. Davis, Burr's first biographer.