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 9:
Holding the Line

Washington's victories at Trenton and Princeton and the establishment of his winter camp at Morristown on January 6 ended for the time being the military operations in northern New Jersey; but potential threats to the Clove would remain as long as Bergen lay open to enemy raids from the New York lines and the British post at Paulus Hook. Throughout the remainder of the struggle, the defense of Smith's Clove - apart from its use as a military highway - and much of the prevailing conditioning of mind among its inhabitants for King or Congress would be inexorably joined to the shifting currents of conflict in northern New Jersey.

Until October 1777, the post and pass at Sidman's bridge was garrisoned by changing regiments and contingents of Orange and Ulster militia. Colonel Levi Pawling served in command in February and March, Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert Cuyper (Cooper) in April, and Brigadier-General James Clinton - George's brother - from May to July. Scouting patrols were routinely dispatched into Jersey, but sometimes the garrison was so weak it was impossible even to mount guard or send out a party on the most urgent service

While Cuyper was there in April, he suggested that the barracks could be completed with little cost or trouble as board and nails were available, but what ensued is not known and no further mention of them was ever made. Sidman's convivial tavern was even put to use for a time as a recruiting station and mustering ground where, according to the recruiting officer, there were "many Men to be had."

There was little doubt as spring approached that the enemy would operate on the Hudson; the first intimation in March was with a British raid on Peekskill.

Heath was succeeded in the Highland command by Alexander McDougall, and he in turn by Israel Putnam. George Clinton, though no longer at Ramapo, still carried full responsibility for turning out the Orange and Ulster militia in conformity with orders of Convention. It was a time of watchful waiting in the Highland forts and at the lower end of Smith's Clove.

The importance of the Clove in the overall pattern of Highland security was apparent in May when Washington instructed Major-General Nathaniel Greene to inspect and report on the state of the fortifications, the possibility of an attack by water, "and the practicability of approaching them by Land," and he was specific in requesting that "The Pass through the Highlands on the West side of the North River should also be attended to, lest the Enemy by a Coup de Main should possess themselves of it, before a sufficient force could be assembled to oppose them."

Greene's report and recommendations, prepared in consultation with four other generals, including George Clinton, mainly stressed work that should be done on the river obstructions, and if these were rendered effectual and the passes were "properly guarded," the enemy would make no attempt to operate against the forts by land insofar as the passes "are so exceeding difficult." Ironically, when the British finally did strike against Forts Clinton and Montgomery five months later, it was by a pass across the Dunderberg.

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