[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.]
A Time for Thieves and Villains
Chapter 1: Introduction
The capture of the Popolopen forts was felt close at home. One-third of the defending garrison, many from the Orange and Ulster militia who had done duty at Sidman's bridge and Ramapo, had been taken prisoner. Twenty-five of Woodhull's regiment, including the major, were in enemy hands. Captain Francis Smith whose Woodbury Clove Company had been in garrison along with Captain Miller's from the Upper Clove, was severely wounded but escaped and endured a painful journey back home across the mountains to his Clove tavern with the help of a sergeant and a corporal who were to marry his two daughters in a double ceremony four months later.
Of the three Clove companies in Woodhull's Cornwall regiment, the least is known of Captain Slot's Southwest Company, which probably performed most of its duty within its own drumbeat in support of the changing garrisons at the important Sidman fortifications. A brief insight into its activity was hinted at in January 1777 with mention of the pasturing of horses and cattle and storage of property at “Captain Slotts in the Clove” that had been taken by Clinton's militia in New Jersey.
With the main armies in Pennsylvania, the British inactive in New York and northern New Jersey quiet, the need for a permanent garrison in the Clove lessened, and in early 1778 American attention was directed almost exclusively to the refortification of the Highlands at West Point, where the first working parties arrived in January when the ground was two feet deep in snow, and within another two weeks work was begun on the forging of a new chain to bar the river at the Sterling Iron Works in an upland valley some three miles west of the Clove.
The removal of Moffat's militia from Sidman's bridge when the forts fell also signaled its abandonment as a permanent post, and for the next three years, until a blockhouse was erected in 1781 on the same ground, the presence of the military in the corridor - aside from passing troops – was intermittent and essentially a Continental responsibility dictated by exigencies of the moment. It is highly probable, however, that the abandoned barracks and bridge facilities continued to be utilized by soldiers temporarily on station or passing through the corridor, but after 1777 all reference by name to the post and pass at Sidman's bridge as a distinct military entity ceased. One who did make a winter reappearance was Captain Thomas Machin, who had laid out the defenses and was then involved with the new river obstructions. On January 24, 1778, he listed expenses incurred “at Capt. Smith's” tavern and “at Sidman's."
The uncertainty among some of the militia whether a post was still to be maintained at the bridge was intimated in April when the matter of alarm stations came up and Colonel John Hathorn, with only vague instructions, informed Brigadier-General James Clinton that the destination of his Warwick regiment, in compliance, “is Either at West Point or Sydman's Bridge”, but “I Shall be at a Loss which place to march to.”
The construction work going on at the new defenses was coupled with an increasing reliance on the mountain roads that traversed the rugged country between Smith’s Clove and the river. Everything that went by land from the Clove to West Point or came in from the river – troops, supplies, communication – went by way of four roads that branched and led eastward from the Clove Road along the lines of what are now Estrada Road (old Route 6) at Central Valley, Park Avenue at Highland Mills, where Earl's mill and tavern were located, and Trout Brook Road in Woodbury Valley, where the eighteenth century home of Widow Van Ambrose (Van Amburgh) stood a few hundred feet north of the crossing of Route 32 by the New York Thruway. The fourth road, described in contemporary documents as leading “from June's tavern” but now obliterated, is believed to have branched from the main highway in the present Woodbury Common area, possibly at Turner Road, and ascended the slope of the valley to join the Estrada Road pathway on the mountaintop across which modern Route 6 passes east of Harriman.
Once in the hills, the roads interlaced into a diffuse network centering on the Forest of Dean and extending to West Point, Fort Montgomery, Queensboro and Doodletown, but their ancient courses have been more or less effaced by modern highway construction or lost in terrain now within the West Point military reservation and closed to the public. These, of course, had no connection with the long road that led from June's tavern across the Haverstraw Mountains into lower Orange and Kakiat.
The rough pathways, miserable as they were, served their purpose and their early use in connection with the fortifications was evident as early as February 19, 1778, when Henry Wisner wrote of his arrival at West Point from the Orange interior with sixteen teams with supplies for the garrison after great difficulty in breaking a road through the snow in the mountains.