[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 14: The Last Garrison
On November 22, 1782, Captain James Duncan and a detachment of the 2nd Canadian arrived at the blockhouse from Pompton to relieve the Marylanders, who marched off to New Windsor. Two days later, Duncan, quartered at Mrs. Sidman's and dating his letter from the “Block House, Sidman’s Clove," sent Hazen a disturbing report of the conditions he found.
The blockhouse, he said, was practically a wreck, the floor of the upper story was almost destroyed and the roof was extremely bad and scarcely affording shelter in wet weather. There were no bunks provided and it would require at least 2,000 feet of boarding to repair the place and make it serviceable for one hundred men; and, in addition, the men would be "badly off" for warmth as the chimney was not centered in the building. As for the “nearest houses” where the commander-in-chief had suggested troops could be quartered, the only buildings in the vicinity were a small house and one little hut that stood about fifty yards from the blockhouse in opposite directions - one towards Mr. Suffern's, the other towards Mrs. Sidman's.
To make matters worse, many of his men were without coats shoes and blankets; they had to provide their own firewood, and there was not a hatchet among them other than what they could borrow from the inhabitants; and, furthermore, they had only four kettles and nineteen cartridges in the whole command. The situation was so distasteful that Duncan requested permission to remain at Mrs. Sidman's where all of the previous blockhouse officers had maintained quarters. Duncan called attention to the fact that the distance was somewhat far – one mile – but he was indulging himself the same privilege as there was nowhere else he would be more comfortable. He explained that his orders involved only defense and the halting of suspicious persons, but his rolls were being called three times a day and he intended to visit the post at night, but if the general thought the distance too great, he would have no alternative but to repair to the blockhouse with only a single blanket.
Hazen returned word on the same day from Pompton and informed Duncan he would not approve his taking quarters so far from his men. “Be the Hardships what they may,” he said, “the Officers of my Regiment must be with or near their Men.” Hazen also sent a copy of Duncan's report to Washington, reiterating that “Whatever may be the Virtues of other soldiers, Experience has taught me to believe that those in my Regiment require the Presence of their Officers.”
Washington approved the decision for Duncan to remain at the blockhouse, and expressed hope that the building would soon be made comfortable. He instructed Hazen that Duncan should inquire if there was some convenient sawmill at hand where boards could be gotten for repair work and he would direct the quartermaster to secure them. As for articles in shortage: shoes could be gotten from the quartermaster and ammunition from West Point, but as for clothing, application would have to be made to the Secretary at War "as we have it not here."