Orange County Historical Society

Corridor Through the Mountains

Smith's Clove: Wartime Line of Communication and Passageway for the Continental Army, 1776-1783

Richard J. Koke

[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.]

Part II:
War in the Clove
Chapter 5:
Offensive from the Highlands

"I am going into the Jerseys for the salvation of America" - so declared Major General Charles Lee on November 30 at Peekskill when ready to move his 2,000 man division across the Hudson from Westchester. Five days later and two days after Tyler's return to the bridge, Lee's troops appeared at the Point of the Mountain and turned into the Clove at Suffern's, moved through the fortifications and Huntington's camp, and camped that night somewhere in the vicinity of Captain Slot's tavern; and on December 6 pushed west along the Ringwood road (now Eagle Valley Road) to the ironworks and on to Pompton. But Lee's self-appointed mission to reconquer the Jerseys ended seven days later with his capture by British cavalry at a Baskingridge tavern.

What is interesting about Lee's presence in the lower Clove, however, is that the circuitous eighteen-mile route he pursued from Suffern's to Pompton by way of the corridor and Ringwood was seven miles longer than a more direct highway (now Route 202) he could have used that coursed its way from Suffern's to Pompton along the edge of the Ramapo escarpment. A speculative thought for his eschewal of the direct road in favor of the snake-like course he did take could be that he sought to move behind the protective cover of the Ringwood hills; or - and this, the interesting consideration - that he was seeking information about the topography of the region to facilitate his movements and desired consultation with Robert Erskine, the knowledgeable Ringwood ironmaster and Fellow of the Royal Society who in seven months would be appointed Geographer to the Continental Army.

In a cursory review of his work as a military cartographer at a later date, Erskine stated that he "began to do business for the Public by making a sketch of the Country for Gen'l Lee." The only known occasion when the two encountered one another was on December 6 when Lee stopped at the ironworks.

Aside from transitory military traffic, American strength in lower Orange was also on the increase by mid-December. Acting on orders from Washington to do everything possible to protect the country and "give vigour to the cause" in New Jersey, Heath crossed the Hudson to Haverstraw with a Continental brigade on December 11, and ordered Huntington and Tyler to leave a captain and fifty men to guard "the pass in the mountains" and advance with both regiments - estimated at about three hundred - "from Ramapo Bridge" to Paramus."

At the same time, as part of the plan to oppose the enemy, the New York Convention, on December 9, had ordered all of the Ulster and northern Orange militia to turn out and await orders at Chester to move towards New Jersey. An unknown diarist with McClaghry's New Windsor militia related that the regiment marched into the Clove on the thirteenth, quartered overnight at June's tavern in the mid-valley, and the next day marched across the Haverstraw mountains into Haverstraw precinct and to the staging area at New City; and it is highly probable that other northern units that moved into the lower county also used this path. The facile movement of militia by way of the Haverstraw path was an effective demonstration of the utility of the Clove and lateral roads as avenues of tactical movement in the rough Highland country.

Moving into New Jersey by way of eastern Orange and Tappan and joined by Brigadier-General George Clinton with four regiments of Orange and Ulster militia and at Paramus by Huntington and Tyler from the Clove, Heath pressed a brief but effective ten-day offensive, captured and occupied Hackensack for two days, seized stores and tories, and raided the English Neighborhood. During one tranquil interlude, Heath's brigade-major did take time to offer an observation on one calm side of wartime life at Paramus: "Colo. Huntington is well at this Place where we live happily. Good Living and in the best Country in the World." The flat Dutch farms of Bergen were obviously more appealing than the rocky defiles of Smith's Clove.

Anxiety on the part of the Convention against extending operations too far from the Highlands - Heath's major responsibility - brought the foray to a sudden end, and on December 22 Heath started a withdrawal back to Peekskill which, in turn, brought up the matter of replacements for the Continental regiments at Sidman's bridge. Huntington's and Tyler's regiments were in their last weeks of service and due for mustering out with a coming reorganization of the army.

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Orange County Historical Society
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Arden, New York, 10910
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