[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 12: New Yorkers at the Clove
After 1780, the security of Smith's Clove and the two entrances at New Antrim and Pompton fell entirely into the hands of the Continental military – to Jerseymen, New Yorkers, Marylanders and finally the Canadian regiment. The American detachment that marched with Washington to Virginia in August 1781 returned north during the last two months of the year, and on December 12 Colonel Philip Van Cortlandt and the two regiments of the New York brigade under his command arrived at Pompton to winter, under orders to occupy the Jersey huts and to send a detachment of fifty men "to the Block House at the Mouth of the Clove," and the Widow Sidman's tavern was again put to use as a billet for the blockhouse officers.
Life in the camp and at the blockhouse was not easy. Van Cortlandt's men were almost destitute of clothing, had no money, were barely supplied with provisions and had to “labour hard” to keep the huts warm. And the colonel considered it almost cruel to keep the men out of doors in the extreme cold to listen to the Sabbath sermons of their aworthy Chaplain” – so much so, he finally sent the minister home to his family until called back, which he did not find necessary to do until the following spring.
For Van Cortlandt, thirty-two, King's College graduate and son of New York's lieutenant-governor, the tedium was somewhat relieved in March with a visit by the commander-in-chief who, after spending the winter in Philadelphia had left for Newburgh with Lady Washington on March 22 and four days later arrived at Morristown. Well knowing the uncertainty of what could be encountered in the Highlands, he had taken precaution to send word ahead to Heath in the Highlands that he expected to “pass thro’ the Clove” at the end of the week and requested that a captain and fifty men be sent on Friday as an escort to Galloway's or some other farmhouse closer to where “the new road from Ringwood” joined the Clove highway at Warwick Brook, and it would be best that they be supplied with provisions for three or four days in case bad weather or some other circumstance delayed his arrival and, what was essential, the officer in charge was to remain “until he hears from me.”
There was good reason for his trepidation. The Jersey newspapers published at Chatham and Trenton both reported the ambush of another mail and the wounding of a dragoon on a lonely stretch of highway between Suffern's and Pompton by some forty tories who were supposedly out to intercept Washington. Heath received Washington's letter on Thursday afternoon and immediately ordered a detachment of “trusty good men” from the Highland command to march that evening from West Point, with specific instruction that “some one should perfectly know the road and place” to which they were being sent. Heath readily admitted it was for “the safety of the commander-in-chief.”
The Washingtons reached Pompton on Saturday evening, the thirtieth – the very day of the ambuscade – and remained with Van Cortlandt for the weekend at what the colonel called his “humble station,” during which the commander-in-chief dispatched a letter from the "York Hutts.” On Monday morning, April 1, he and Martha departed for Newburgh with an escort to the Clove furnished by Van Cortlandt for their safety.
The thirty-nine mile journey was an all-day affair, probably with a stop at Ringwood for a courtesy call at Mrs. Erskine’s – who had remarried, then on past Tuxedo Pond to the Clove where Heath's escort under Captain John Trotter of the 5th Massachusetts was waiting; and then north past June's and Smith's and the Widow Van Ambrose’s and through New Windsor precinct to the Widow Hasbrouck's stone house at Newburgh where they arrived in the evening “in good health.”
In late August, Van Cortlandt with his brigade was ordered to join the army in Westchester, but, though quitting Pompton, he was instructed to leave a subaltern and twenty men at the blockhouse, and whatever baggage was not necessary for the field was to be left at the Clove or some other safe place. The twenty-man garrison remained on duty for another two months before rejoining the brigade after a ten-month Yorker occupation of the blockhouse.
The New Yorkers were still there when Rochambeau and the French army, after wintering in Virginia, again made an appearance in September on its way to rejoin Washington and, after passing Pompton, camped again on the night of September 13-14 at Suffern's on the same ground on Washington Avenue it had occupied the year before. The military significance of the corridor by now was so pervasive and well-known that one of Rochambeau's aides offhandedly referred to it as they passed as “the famous Clove."
The end of summer and of the inconclusive field operation in Westchester again brought another winter garrison to the Clove. In late October, Van Cortlandt's detachment at the blockhouse was ordered replaced by a captain and fifty men of the 3rd Maryland Regiment assigned to Pompton, but the Marylanders were there for but a short time. Eleven days after the regiment was dispatched to Pompton and the blockhouse, the major in command - Major Thomas Lansdale - was ordered on November 1 to proceed to New Windsor where the army was hutting, but the blockhouse garrison was to remain until relieved by the 2nd Canadian Regiment approaching from Pennsylvania.
At the same time, Washington sent an order to Brigadier-General Moses Hazen (1733-1803), commanding the Canadians, to halt near the Yellow House at Pompton and detach a captain and fifty men to relieve the Marylanders at the blockhouse. Hazen arrived in the middle of the month but found the huts at Pompton insufficient, expecting quarters near Morristown, but Washington informed him that this would interfere with arrangements already made, and the greater part of his regiment would have to remain at Pompton; but if room was lacking he could send fifty more men to the blockhouse, increasing the Clove garrison to one-hundred, and those who could not be accommodated within the building could be quartered in the nearest houses. He also suggested that an officer should be sent to Ringwood to ascertain if some of the buildings could be repaired to house troops.
The quartering problem was resolved somewhat when Washington informed Hazen in early December that one company was to be sent to Dobbs Ferry on the Hudson, another was to be posted at the Clove blockhouse, another at Ringwood and the remainder at Pompton. The Dobbs Ferry detachment was to be relieved every fortnight, and those at the Clove and Ringwood as often as Hazen thought proper. Hazen and his wife secured a room in a Dutch farmhouse at Pompton and other officers in whatever houses they could. The troops remained in huts.