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 V:
Finally, A Dreary Blockhouse
Chapter 3:
Summer at the Clove

Nathanael Greene's warning letter to Washington on June 22 of the threatened northward advance of the enemy towards lower Orange immediately directed attention to the Clove, as was pointedly noted by an officer at West Point when he wrote that Washington's approach towards the Hudson was made “in consequence of the Enemy Attempting to take the Gorge in the Mountains near Sidman’s Clove” but his rapid move “happily frustrated” the enemy design.

Hamilton, the headquarters aide, wrote from Hopper's that the British vessels that had been “dancing up and down” the river had finally withdrawn “to sit down quietly in New York.” Greene, on his part, made observation that the enemy "upon the whole have no great things to boast of” and Sir Henry Clinton, after making "some demonstrations” as if intending to attack West Point, did not even dare attempt it. Huntington, whose troops had spearheaded Washingtons advance to the Clove and had taken post, was ordered to move from Suffern's to West Point by way of the corridor and Forest of Dean, one of his young soldiers describing the Clove as aa remarkable chasm in the mountains.”

The Clove continued secure after this last major enemy threat. Washington's After Orders issued at Hopper's on June 30 directed Colonel James Livingston to take post “near the old Barracks” with his 1st Canadian Regiment and, in cooperation with Captain Johnson and his Yorker detachment already on the ground, provide a guard for the stores at Ringwood. Four days later, the commander-in-chief issued more precise instructions that he was to possess “the pass at the entrance of the Clove" to protect the country and well affected inhabitants and, with an eye for efficient army transport, he was also to examine the condition of the road between Ringwood and June's tavern and make whatever repairs were necessary; and concluded with the usual admonition that in case of an attack “the pass at the clove which you are particularly to attend to, is to be defended to the last extremity."

On July 20, Captain Johnson, who had been in the corridor since the beginning of June, was ordered to rejoin his brigade at West Point, and eleven days later Livingston was ordered to march to King's Ferry with his small 80-man regiment. His month-long stay at the Clove was, for him, merely another obscure military post in years of wartime service, but with his removal to the river he was unknowingly being drawn into a vortex of treason, both as observer and participant, and it was because of his enterprising activity in September in opening fire on a British sloop-of-war that the fateful train of events was set in motion that brought about Arnold's desertion and André's death.

The Springfield incursion was the last engagement of importance on New Jersey soil, and for the remainder of the war Smith's Clove, devoid of enemy threat, continued a safe thoroughfare for Washington's Continentals, and also, in surreptitious fashion, a familiar route for loyalists and enemy agents traveling the secret line of communication between British-held New York and Canada.

The clearing and opening of the new road by way of Tuxedo Pond in 1779, joining the main Clove highway at present-day Route 17 near Warwick Brook Road, brought about an increased use of the Pompton entrance and Ringwood route as a more direct passage between Morristown and West Point in place of the tortuous road that twisted down from Eagle Valley into the Clove at Slot's that had been used by Washington's divisions when they entered the corridor in the summer of seventy-nine. Frequent mention of movement in and out of the Clove “by way of Ringwood” clearly indicates its importance in the Ramapo and Highland communication system - a thoroughfare described in 1781 by one traveler as the road on “the other side of the Clove mountains.”

Though the new road after 1780 became the more extensively utilized entry into the Clove from western New Jersey, the entrance at Suffern’s, nonetheless, continued crucial for communication between interior Orange and eastern Bergen and the Hudson. The security of the Pompton and New Antrim entrances, nearly a dozen miles apart, brought a close unity of command between the two positions, but with the Clove more or less relegated to the status of a dependency post with changing garrisons supplied from a base headquartered at Pompton.

Save for a week in Westchester, Washington and the Grand Army lay in Bergen and in lower Orange for most of the summer, and after the searing travail of Arnold's treason and the coming of autumn, the army was again made ready for distribution in winter quarters. On November 12, Washington wrote that the New Jersey brigade at West Point would be stationed at Pompton, and “a detachment from it at the other clove near Suffrans.” Two weeks later, on November 22, he wrote to the brigade's commanding officer that on his march to the Pompton hutting ground he was to leave a field officer and a detachment of about one hundred men near Suffern’s “at or near the place where the old Barracks stood; where, or on the Height South of the bridge, it may be well to build a block House, proof against Musketry, and calculated for Barracks for the above number of Men, or a smaller number, say 60."

Washington's allusion to a blockhouse that would also serve as a lodgement for a garrison could infer that the old buildings of 1776-77 on the same ground had finally outlived their usefulness and were in disrepair; but there is nothing to suggest that any serious construction was undertaken before the following spring. The brigade was under the usual outpost orders that, in addition to maintaining the communication with the Delaware, it was to cover the country between the Hudson and Passaic rivers and advance parties towards Hackensack and the Liberty Pole to curtail the illicit traffic with the enemy. As for more mundane service, it was to furnish men when necessary to assist in the movement of supply convoys, and if reliable information was received of an enemy attack in strength, the brigade was to withdraw to West Point. The posting of the Jersey troops both at Pompton and Sidman's bridge in the winter of 1780-81 not only was the beginning of a close association between the two posts that was to continue to the end of the war, but was also an indication that the defense of the Clove was being taken over to a greater extent by the Continental military in place of the Orange and Ulster militia who earlier had been essential for its security.

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