«HACKENSACK - HERITAGE TO HORIZONS PUBLISHED BY: THE HACKENSACK BICENTENNIAL COMMITTEE TERRY LARK, EDITOR DR. IRWIN TALBOT, PHD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR ...»
In the Bergen County government, however, there was no opportunity to rotate jobs. Seven families dominated the political scene - two so-called "old guard" families, the Van Buskirks and the Kingslands, had for their opposition the Provoosts, Van Giesens, Demarests, Deys and Berthilfs. Initially, a person started as a member of the Governor's Council, or as an Assemblyman, and only after that did he go into township office. Only one Bergen County resident became a member of the Governor's Council after 1715 because few were qualified. To be eligible a candidate had to own 1,000 acres of land or property valued at at least 500 pounds.
The system of family control in County Government declined because of the weak economy in the years before the Revolution. These groups lost their affluence and their influence. The emerging leaders were mainly pro-Tory.
Neither town nor county officials were especially concerned about the poor or the debtors. Too much credit had been extended and the money not being collectable often produced occasional violence and chaotic situations. One reported incident involved a judge -- Peter Zabriskie -- who sat in judgment in four cases where he himself was the plaintiff. One big problem in obtaining justice was the fact that various court clerks, lawyers and judges could be brothers, cousins or otherwise related and not impartial in their conduct During this period Hackensack had been in competition with another Jersey town, Newark, but the former's poor roads caused many economic woes. The start of ferry routes across from Paulus Hook (Jersey City) and from Hoboken to New York City brought a need for stage coach lines in New Jersey. The first stage line connecting Hackensack and Paulus Hook left from the Watson Tavern in Hackensack on Mondays and Fridays at 7 A.M. and returned from what is now Jersey City the same day at 2 P.M. Competition arose among stage lines and taverns, which acted as depots. In 1770 there were thirty taverns in this county or one tavern for each three hundred inhabitants! The stage lines, farm produce, roads and bridges all meant at least the possibility of trade with New York City.
Introduction to Chapter IV A visitor to the Garden State of America, as the province of New Jersey was called in the 1770s, might have been impressed by the happy, prosperous appearances. All around would be seen solid stone houses, well-farmed lands, and large orchards - outward symbols of a happy citizenry. In reality the people of the time had many reasons for tensions and worry.
Because the land had been Dutch and then English, there were legal entanglements of ownership, with frustrating complications setting neighbor against neighbor.
It has been said that if Benjamin Franklin's son (then the Governor of New Jersey), had more power, the Revolutionary feelings in New Jersey would have been almost nonexistent. Once the war started, pillaging and foraging by troops on both sides dealt a blow to the farmers in Bergen County who were in the neutral area of the Hackensack Valley. It is important to remember that the independent nature of the Dutch led them to struggle against any interference in their day-today lifestyle, while their desire for liberty set them apart from most people elsewhere in the world. The Dutch really believed that birth and position did not matter, but that each individual should be an independent person and all human beings were of equal worth. Such new feelings would obviously create deep tensions, as the War for Independence developed.
The Revolutionary War...
The part of New Jersey north of Newark had a dramatic part in the Revolution. The inhabitants were Jersey Dutch, cut off in many ways from their English countryman and the rest of the colony. Like their British neighbors, they spent the months before Lexington quarreling among themselves over the issues of the day, never realizing that it was to be the Jersey Dutch farmer, not the New Englander or Virginia planter, who would be surrounded by contending armies when war came.
Nevertheless, during May, 1775, trade was flourishing in the Hackensack area. Pettiaugers (twomasted flat-bottomed schooner like vessels capable of transporting 10 to 12 tons of cargo) sailed up and down the busy Hackensack River on every tide, carrying country farm produce to New York and merchandise back to the farms and mines of northern New Jersey. Stage coaches between Hackensack and Bergen were said to be busier than ever.
It was during this time in 1775 that the County seat at Hackensack witnessed sharp conflicts and embittered feelings as partisans of both Whig and Tory parties took decided stands for and against outright independence.
As early as July Fourth of 1775, "His Majestie's Justices and Freeholders of the County of Bergen and Province of East New Jersey in a meeting "unanimously agreed to the following motion, "to wit “or not. This Board says they have.” "Whether the County Committee shall have a right in case of emergency to take the County Arms out of the Courthouse” The question of armed conflict was rapidly approaching the local area. It was the summer of 1776 when the British moved the war down from New England to New York. From then on, the Dutchmen were forced to live on dreaded neutral ground, forced to choose between loyalty to American principles and loyalty to the British Crown.
Many Hackensack area residents had enlisted in the Jersey Line of the Continental Army as early as April, 1775, after reports that fighting had broken out at Lexington and Concord. The spectacle of redcoats shooting American farmers convinced the majority that American arms must answer England's ministerial arrogance. Amazingly, New Jersey changed from a royal government to a revolutionary government without the firing of a gun. To the utter distress of the Tories, the province soon found the Governor and Council shorn of power and the lawful Provincial Assembly superseded by the Rebel Provincial Congress. Five prominent patriots were named to represent the County at the Provincial Congress to be held at Trenton on May 23, 1775.
When it convened, it generally acted as though the royal government of New Jersey did not exist,
- prohibiting exports to parts of Canada, proposing patriot associations, establishing numerous militia companies, and appointing their officers and levying taxes. Between Saturday, June 29, 1776, and Tuesday, July 2, the British sailed into New York Harbor, some 250 man-o'-war sailing ships strong. Most of the vessels were transports, their decks filled with redcoats, who disembarked into encampments on Staten Island.
By the end of August, General William Howe had opened attack and had taken Long Island from American forces. September 15, saw the Americans easily driven out of lower Manhattan, and shortly afterwards the strong point of Paulus Hook and the town of Bergen were evacuated without a battle.
The Hackensack Valley was exposed to great danger. Washington and his army were almost barren of hope. Threatened by a possible British attack, on Wednesday, November 13, General George Washington abandoned his camp at White Plains, New York, and crossed the Hudson River with all the Continental troops from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the states to the south, and encamped in and around Hackensack. Washington and his staff established their own headquarters at Peter Zabriskie’s house on the Village Green. Many of the houses in Hackensack sheltered one or two refugees who had sneaked out of New York City when the British took it over.
At this point Washington considered his position as being poor but not desperate. At Fort Lee, General Nathaniel Greene prevented the British from crossing the Hudson River, helped by the sheer walls of the Palisades, which formed an almost impassable precipice for 10 miles south and 20 miles north. Greene had 2,400 men, while Colonel Robert Magaw had a force of 1,200 troops holding Fort Washington against the British.
At ten o'clock on Monday, November 16, the British movement began and with little resistance the British overtook Fort Washington. General Washington lost 2,000 men whom he could illafford to be without, and he sadly returned to Hackensack to plot new defenses.
On the night of November 19, the British secretly moved their flatboats north to Kingsbridge, and several thousand British troops under Lord Cornwallis packed their tents and marched to the Phillips' House on the east shore of the Hudson. At daybreak Cornwallis began crossing the Hudson with his troops, landing at Closter Dock (present day Cresskill) which was undefended because it was thought to be too steep for a body of troops with arms to climb.
Nevertheless, the British completed their landing at 9 A.M. on November 20 Washington received word of the landing at 10 A.M. while at Hackensack.
The British were only 11 miles away from Fort Lee, but the first half mile contained the obstacle of the precipice of the Palisades. Washington's headquarters at Hackensack was six miles from the fort. The route of the advancing troops met the route of the retreating Americans from the fort at Liberty Pole Tavern, 3% miles from Fort Lee and 7 miles from the Closter Dock landing.
It is widely accepted that had Cornwall is moved enough of his men forward to cut off the American retreat at Liberty Pole, Washington and his rebel army would have been captured and the war ended.
The British troops did not reach Liberty Pole until the entire American garrison had passed that point. The British were well aware that the Americans had passed the same point shortly before, but they decided to go on and capture the now empty Fort Lee. When they arrived at the Fort at 1 P.M., they found 300 tents standing, 50 loaded cannons, and many other provisions and stores.
Scattered along the road to Hackensack which was used by the retreating Americans were numerous muskets, knapsacks, and both heavy and light artillery.
The American troops crossed the Hackensack River at New Bridge, in front of the AckermanZabriskie-Von Steuben House. It was nightfall, cold and rainy when the army wearily entered Hackensack the 21st, the countryside was a beehive of activity, as people worked feverishly to conceal Continental property that the army could not carry on its retreat. They hid or buried hundreds of soldiers' shirts and stores of gunpowder, lead, bullets, and food. Washington was still in his headquarters on the Village Green that morning, planning to abandon Hackensack and cross over the Passaic River and relative safety.
Albert Zabriskie asked Washington where the army planned to go. Washington leaned over on his horse and whispered, "Can you keep a secret?" When Zabriskie firmly assured him that he could, Washington said, "I can too." And as part of their Bicentennial program the people of Bergen County re-enacted this disheartening period and the retreat from Fort Lee through the various towns to Hackensack on November 20th and to the Passaic County Border on the 21st.
Each group of citizens paid honor to those hard pressed men of the rag-tag Continental Army until they reach the Delaware River. A fitting tribute in 1976 to the courage shown in 1776 under the most adverse conditions rode off.
About noon the next day, November 22nd, the British took possession of Hackensack, and in the afternoon the Green was covered with Hessians, about strong. They foraged and plundered, frightening the inhabitants.
On November 25, 1776, four days after Washington and his troops left, N Hackensack for the Acquackanonk Bridge, the British General Harcourt in command of the 16th Dragoons, with several companies of light artillery, started in pursuit, but did not know the way. Washington had gone down Polifly Road to Albert Terhune's Lane, which intersected that old road at what is now 315 Terrace Avenue, and led to Acquackanonk Bridge (now Passaic). But as General Harcourt did not know the area, he passed Terhune's Lane and continued over the old road as far as Hillside Cemetery, where he stopped to ask directions. He was told to go back to the first branch, (now Union Avenue) over which he was to continue to the first intersecting road, (Jackson Avenue) where he was to turn to the right and follow that road to the bridge. The General followed directions, but when he arrived at the bridge he found it destroyed.
These events were the most noteworthy of Bergen County history during the Revolutionary period. The fate of the Hackensack patriots, like that of all America, depended on Washington, whose broken army now waited on the west side of the Delaware for the British to continue their drive against Philadelphia. The British, confident of victory, were waiting for the River to freeze hard enough to cross. The British believed there was plenty of time, and that the Continental Capital was but a day's skirmish away.
Toward the end of December, even Congress had left the area of Philadelphia in a panic towards Baltimore, and it seemed as though the American rebellion was quelled.
But on Christmas Day, 1776, the British were caught off guard by Washington, who crossed the Delaware in a sleet storm that night, and captured or killed the entire British force in Trenton.
The whole complexion of the war was altered by this one bold movement by Washington.
Meanwhile, the patriots of Bergen County, overwhelmed by British power and Tory neighbors, kept a stiff resistance in a seemingly lost cause during the early weeks of British occupation, and when the fortunes of war drove the British back to their bastion on Manhattan Island, settled down to a five-year war of neighbors on neutral ground. The fighting in Bergen was done by the local militia, not by the main bodies of either army.
The patriot militiaman farmed during the day and did sentinel duty at night, never knowing when a band of Tories would raid his farm and carry him and his sons off to Sugar House Prison on British held Manhattan, never knowing whose home and barns had been next marked for destruction. British foraging expeditions of thousands of men often reaped the harvests that Bergen County farmers had sown. On occasion, the American forces were themselves forced to strip local farms for their own existence, and many a Jersey Dutchman who had risked his life for years found that to a foraging Continental he was but another damned Tory.
One of the numerous British foragings occurred on Sunday, September 14, 1777, when the British General Clinton led a group of soldiers into the Hackensack Valley from their camp in Manhattan. It was Colonel Aaron Burr who led a successful rout against them later that night.