[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.]
Finally, A Dreary Blockhouse
Chapter 10: What Really Happened
Though Montanye's story combines fact and fiction to his advantage, the incident of his capture is well documented and, aside from the Yorktown connection, is an interesting episode of Clove history in itself. In March 1781, acting on orders from British headquarters to venture within the rebel lines to intercept American mails, a band of four men headed by the intrepid loyalist Moody left New York and made their way through the Haverstraw Mountains and into the Clove, and after lying concealed for four days near New Windsor succeeded in waylaying post rider Montanye on March 29 on his way to Philadelphia. Two days later, Moody and his men brought both rider and mail into New York, and Montanye was locked up in the Provost prison on the Commons.
The daring capture was a coup and of such note that Moody was given a reward of one hundred guineas. The great number of letters from New England, Fishkill and New Windsor included several from “Mr. Washington,” from which, it was reported, Sir Henry Clinton “received very material information.” Rivington reported the seizure in his Gazette on April 4 and that “Montanye the Post Rider” was brought in, and in the same issue published a partial version of a letter written by Washington to his cousin on March 28.
The locale of Montanye's interception can fortunately be determined with fair precision. Heath, who was in the Highlands, stated that the seizure took place "between headquarters [at New Windsor] and the Jersies," while other contemporary accounts mostly give the location as "in the Clove." James Moody, who left a narrative, said little more than that it took place in the region of the Haverstraw Mountains, but two other British sources prove more informative. Major Carl Leopold Baurmeister of the British general staff, who knew what was going on, stated that the mail was taken "at the Clove near New Windsor"; while Major Frederick Mackenzie, who handled British intelligence, pinpointed it more closely as "about 5 miles" from New Windsor, which places it somewhere on the course of the Clove Road, now Route 32, in the Mountainville area of Woodbury Valley and in proximity to the farm of John William Smith beneath double-crested Schunemunk, who found the Pennsylvanians on his property so troublesome in 1779.
UPPER SMITH'S CLOVE Woodbury to Mountainville, sometimes called Schunemunk Clove, Woodbury Clove and Woodbury Valley. 1. Site of Widow Van Ambrose house, Route 32, opposite Trout Brook Road. 2. Site of home of John William Smith (1741-1782), extensive landowner in Upper clove and member of the noted colonial Smith family of New York and Haverstraw. One of his brothers, William Smith, Jr., served as Chief Justice of the Province of New York under British control, 1779-83. Joshua Hett Smith, another brother, was implicated in Benedict Arnold's plot to betray West Point in 1780, and in November of that year stopped here overnight while being taken under guard to Goshen for confinement. 3. Smith's mill, Woodbury Creek, Mountainville. 4. Encampment of the Pennsylvania division under Major-General Arthur St. Clair on lawyer Smith's farm, June 14 to July 17, 1779.
Far from indulging himself the dispatch of letters intended for interception, as Montanye was to aver, Washington was perturbed over the loss of the mail. A week later, sending a duplicate letter to a correspondent in Virginia to replace the original that was lost with Montanye, the commander-in-chief voiced apprehension that his first letter miscarried “and is supposed to have been taken and carried into New York.” The matter came up again in June when he commented that “the Accidents which have lately befallen several of our Messengers between this Place [New Windsor] and Philadelphia makes one extremely cautious of trusting any Thing of Importance to Paper."
Seven days after Montanye's capture and before definite news came from the British lines, Henry Knox was writing that the Philadelphia post had been seized by some Villains in the Clove, and we suppose carried into New York," and the lost mail contained “a public letter of considerable consequence” from the commander-in-chief and other letters “of less importance.” Everybody at headquarters knew of Rivington's proclivities as a publisher, and the jovial artillerist knowingly informed his friend McDougall that “we may prepare for another publication of the Enemie," and he was thankful, not having written, that “none of mine can be published."
People awaiting Montanye's mail along the road in New Jersey on its way to Philadelphia knew nothing of his non-appearance, and it was not until Rivington's Gazette went into the country on April 4 with the New York news that they knew for certain, as one officer at Morristown said, “that poor Montanye is a prisoner there." At Trenton, word circulated that the mail failed to arrive because the post rider had been made prisoner by the tories, as is supposed in the Clove, and carried off to New York."