Bergen Neck - Fort Delancy - Skirmishes
1776 - 1782
Bergen Neck During the Revolution - Troops Stationed and Fort
Delancey Erected - Trouble With Tories - Skirmishes Between
American and British Troops - ^Unlawfulness and Murders - Ward's
Band - Attacks Upon - Newspaper Extracts - Fort Delancey
Bergen Neck was important territory
during the Revolutionary War. In the spring of 1776 it was
learned that the British were preparing to sail for New York.
Lord Sterling, in command of the American forces at Bergen,
undertook the defense of Bergen and Bergen Neck. He personally
examined the ground at Bergen Neck and Paulus Hoeck on March 23,
and after a short period works were erected at these places,
those on Bergen Neck to prevent invasion from Staten Island.
Here Colonel Ford, with a force of about three hundred men, was
The following order, given in the spring
of 1776, is proof that at this time Bergen Point was occupied by
portions of the Continental Army:
"Whereas the Asia having quitted her
station, and left the harbor, the navigation between this city
and New Jersey, by the Kills, is become quite safe; the troops
upon Staten Island and Bergen Neck, are to let all boats coming
to New York, or returning to Jersey, to pass and re-pass without
molestation. Given at Head-Quarters in New York, 14th of April,
Horatio Gates, Adjutant General
New York "Gazette and Weekly Mercury,"
April 15, 1776.1
The British fleet in command of General
Howe arrived and cast anchor off the mouth of the Kill von Kull
late in June, and the troops landed on Staten Island. Shortly
after their arrival they placed a small guard with two
six-pounders on Van Buskirk's Point. This was the first
landing-place of the British forces in New Jersey. Troops were
quartered in and around the Van Buskirk homestead, where plans
of attack were made. Great excitement was manifest along the
Neck. The Tories hastened to take sides with their King, while
others did not dare to make known for which side they stood, in
fear of being murdered.2
Precautionary measures were being taken
by the American troops at this time. General Mercer was ordered
on July 4 to place a guard of five hundred men at Bergen Neck,
to reinforce the troops there. This post, afterward known as
Fort Delancey, was situated on a high piece of property between
what is now Fifty-first and Fifty-second Streets, about one
hundred feet east of the Speedway, and adjoining the property in
rear of 99 West Fifty-first Street.
When Mercer arrived, he found that
Ford's force was not sufficient, consequently the Pennsylvania
militia and more Jersey troops were sent to reinforce these men.
General Mercer also learned that many families at the Point and
Hook were in constant communication with the British force on
Staten Island and with their ships at the mouth of the Kill.
In a sworn statement filed at Albany,
dated June 29, 1776, there appears: "There is one Peter Van
Buskirk Living at or near the hook or mouth of the Kills in
Bargain County who its frequently said has followed trading with
the men of war, who….. Carrys people on Board when Ever
Requested, and has a sufficient Craft for that purpose.'
This was Peter Van Buskirk, who with his
brother Johannis (sons of Andries Van Buskirk of Hook), were
suspected of holding intercourse with the enemy. They were
tried and acquitted in July, 1776.
General Mercer planned to attack the
enemy on Staten Island on the night of July 18. Plan of attack
was as follows:
"Sixth. A party to attempt to surprise
the enemy's guard on Buskirk's Point, which is on the southeast
corner of Bergen Point; this party, or guard, does not seem to
be large, but it is said they are possessed of two six-pounders.
The party that makes the attack must not attempt to go over the
causeway or road over the meadow, the cannon being in all
probability appointed to command that pass, but should be
provided with some boards, and proceed in two or three columns
over the meadow, where they will meet with no other obstruction
than a small creek or ditch, which they will easily pass with,
the help of the boards. If this place is carried, a cannonade
and bombardment should, as soon as possible, commence on the
ships, a great number of which now lie within reach of the
place. A cannonade should also commence on Bergen Point,
opposite the church and Decker's, where it is said about six
hundred men are posted; this cannonade, with round and grape
shot, would confuse the troops in forming, and prevent their
succoring the guard at Elizabethtown Point, or opposing our
party who make their descent near Shutter's Island. The
cannonade should also be kept up on such parts of the shore of
Staten Island where any boats are collected or may assemble. The
party for these several matters on Bergen Neck should be about
seven hundred men, besides the riflemen."3
This attack was not made, however, for
on that evening the weather was very stormy and prevented his
forces from crossing the Kill von Kull.
Although other attacks were planned by
the militia, none were made. However, the American troops
stationed at Bergen Point practiced occasionally on the enemy's
fleet, as well as their camp on Staten Island.
The following accounts appeared:
"New York, July 22, 1776. Yesterday
several Discharges of Cannon and Musketry was heard in this
City, and by the Appearance of a Cloud of Smoke over Bergen
Point, it is imagined our People on the Jersey Shore have had a
Skirmish with the Enemy, from Staten Island."
"New York, July 25th.
"Our troops stationed on Bergen Point
give the Ministerial fleet and army some uneasiness, by firing
at the tender, boats, etc. It so galls and provokes them, that
they return the fire with great fury, but have not done the
least damage to our people. Last Lord's Day a great many shots
were heard in this city and Bergen Point. The occasion was this:
A barge from the fleet, full of men, landed cm the Point,4
but were opposed and driven off with precipitation by our
troops; a smart fire ensued from a tender for a considerable
time, without doing any injury."5
In the "Pennsylvania Evening Post" of
October 1 appears this:
". . . the same day (Wednesday last)
there was a smart firing from Bergen point at two tenders, a
sloop and a schooner that lay near Shutter's Island, at the
mouth of Newark Bay."
Bergen Neck was evacuated by the
American troops in October, 1776, shortly after the capture of
New York by the British.
A letter written on October 4 says:
"Tomorrow we evacuate Bergen. . . . Bergen is the narrow neck of
land accessible on three sides by water, and exposed to a
variety of attacks in different places at one and the same time.
A large body of the enemy might infallibly take possession of
the- place whenever they pleased, unless we kept a stronger
force than our number will allow. The spot is not an object of
our arms; if they attack, it would but cut off those who
defended it and secure the grain and military stores. These have
been removed, and when we are gone, a naked spot is all they
In April, 1777, Colonel Abraham Van
Buskirk was in command of the British forces at Bergen Point.
The following incident, which occurred a
few months later, appeared in a Tory newspaper:
"Last Friday Night a Party of Rebels,
consisting of some Officers and twelve Men, proceeding on an
Enterprize to seize the Person of Wm. Van Buskirk, at Bergen
Point, were intercepted on their return through the vigilance of
Turnbull, Commander at Powles Hook,
whose Men fired upon them, and Mr. Livingston, said to be a
junior Brother of Col. Livingston, who was taken at Fort
Montgomery, was killed on the spot, and another Person, named
Van Dolsan, taken Prisoner, who was brought to town the next
Day, and safely lodged in the Provost.
"The above Gentry plundered several
Houses in and about Pemerapough particularly Barent Van Home,
Mr. Vreeland, Mr. Van Wagenen, and Walter Clanderon, and in the
House last mentioned Mr. Livingston received his wound." New
York "Gazette and Weekly Mercury," December 8, 1777.
In this year the British forces occupied
the works at Bergen Neck, which they called Fort Delancey in
honor of Oliver Delancey, the great Tory of Westchester.7
This was garrisoned principally by Tories or "refugees," as they
called themselves, who spent more time plundering and murdering
their old neighbors, than in honorable warfare.
The following item goes to show that the
whole district was overrun with spies and marauding parties,
both of the British and militia:
"Last Wednesday, Jan. 13th, a Mr. Allen,
ensign in the Rebel army, with three Jersey Militiamen, were
apprehended on Bergen Point by a party from Captain Anstrulher's
company of the 26th Regiment." "Rivington's Gazette," January
In the winter of 1779-80 when fuel was
very scarce in New York, Bergen Neck was covered with fine
timber valued at £11 per acre. Consequently the Tories cut the
timber and sold it to the British in New York. Winfield says:
"To make it safe for them to enter upon their business, it was
necessary to have redoubts, breastworks, or block houses into
which they could retire at night and to which they might fly in
case of attack by day." They occupied Fort Delancey with Captain
Tom Ward in command. Ward was a notoriously vicious character,
and his band were the worst types of desperadoes and runaway
slaves; and were greatly feared by the inhabitants. The
character of Ward can be understood from the fact that on one
occasion, on becoming involved in a financial difficulty with a
neighboring farmer, he paid three of his negroes to murder him,
which they did with terrible cruelty.
This whole territory was overrun with
these notorious characters and was the scene of murders,
robberies and all kinds of outrageous acts. Farm houses were
looted and several were destroyed by fire. The old Close
homestead on Twentieth Street was one of several houses that
figured conspicuously during the war. It was "marked" to be
burned, but somehow escaped destruction.
Constable's Hook was an important place
at this time, and was also the center for numerous executions
both lawful and un-lawful. In 1779 Thomas Long, a New Jersey
Tory, was hung on a persimmon tree near the old tide mill at
this place. Stephen Ball, of Rahway, was falsely accused by
Hatfield's party (also Tories with bad reputations) as being a
spy, and was executed, or rather murdered, by them on Bird's
Point, Constable's Hook, January 25, 1781.
Ward's plunderers, thieving and raiding
by night at Bergen Point, Pembrepogh, Elizabethtown, Newark and
along Bergen Hill, kept the people terror-stricken.
Pembrepogh was the scene of numerous
skirmishes between his band and the militia. In October, 1780, a
small battle took place here. About one hundred and fifty
American troops came over the King's Highway along Newark Bay to
attack and capture Ward, if possible. They were discovered
approaching through the woods, and were immediately fired upon
by the occupants of the fort. A company of British in small
boats anchored in Newark Bay, hearing the firing, started a
cannonade. Fearing an attack from that direction by an
overwhelming number, the militia retreated, doing little damage
to the refugee post.
A Tory account of the affair was
described as follows in the New York "Gazette and Weekly
Messenger," October 16:
"On Saturday morning last the Refugee Post at Bergen Point under
command of Captain Thomas Ward, was attacked by a party of rebel
infantry and horse consisting of about 200 men. After receiving
a smart fire from the artillery and musketry of the Refugees,
assisted by a cannonade from the gallies8
they were forced to retreat."
An extract from the New York "Packet,"
August 30, 1781: "Last Friday night a party went from Newark and
captured two sloops lying near the Refugee Post on Bergen shore,
out of which they took 8 prisoners, who were sent to
The "New Jersey Journal" of September 5,
1781, says: "Last Wednesday night a party of Ward's plunderers
from Bergen Neck, came to the neighborhood of Hackensack, where
they collected a number of cattle which the inhabitants retook
and killed and wounded several of the miscreants."
A few months later, after one of the
raids, the following news item appeared in the "New Jersey
Journal" under date of December 12, 1 781: "Last Thursday
sennight Captain Baker Hendricks, with a party of men in whale
boats went down Newark Bay near the Kills, where he boarded and
stripped two wood boats and took one prisoner, and on Thursday
night last, he landed a small party of men at Bergen Neck, near
the Refugees Post,9 where he took
two prisoners; and on his return took three noted villains."
In the same paper on February 13, 1782,
there also appeared: "Last Thursday morning a detachment of the
Jersey Brigade, under Capt. Bowmay, who were joined by a party
of militia, went across the sound (meaning Newark Bay) on the
ice to the Refugees Post on Bergen Neck, where they captured
three of the miscreants, one of whom was of a sable hue; they
bayoneted the Negro, who refused to surrender. No artifice could
induce them to sally out, therefore no other trophies were
obtained than those above mentioned."
A Tory account of the same occurrence
follows: "On Thursday morning before sunrise, two hundred Rebels
from a New Jersey Brigade, attacked Fort De Lancey, commanded by
Major Ward. They had meditated the attack for some time and lay
for two nights upon their arms. The advanced sentinel, a negro,
was bayoneted. They were driven off. They then formed in three
columns on the ice, were again attacked and fled." New York
"Mercury," February 11, 1782.
On the night of March 29, 1782, still
another fight took place. Some Newark militia in whale boats
landed at about where Fifty-fourth Street now is. Here they
captured seven prisoners who lodged in houses along the shore. A
party was sent out from Fort Delancey to intercept them, and was
fired upon. On their returning the fire they killed and wounded
four of their own men who were prisoners, besides two or three
of the militia, who made their escape over the darkened waters.10
Fort Delancey was evacuated and burned
by the Refugees themselves in September, 1782, and the following
month Ward and his despised followers embarked for Nova Scotia.
The ruins of this old fort remained
comparatively a long time, but now there is nothing left to
indicate that a fortification of any kind stood on this site.
Recently a rusty cannon ball was unearthed from under an old
tree in front of No. 90 West Fifty-second Street. Besides this,
an old bayonet and portion of a cap were dug up on the
neighboring property. No doubt the property in this locality and
that running toward Newark Bay contains similar relics buried
under a few feet of soil.
New Jersey Archives. Second Series, Vol. I.
2. There were only fourteen
families in the entire length of Bergen Neck who were pronounced
3. American Archives. Fifth
4. About Hobart Avenue.
5. Ibid. Fifth Series.
6. American Archives. Fifth
7. Winfield's History of
8. The British gallies
patrolled Newark Bay to protect Bergen Neck.
9. Foot of West Fifty-sixth
Street was a favorite landing place.
10. Rivington Gazette No.
Source: First History of Bayonne, New
Jersey, by Royden Page Whitcomb, Published by R. P. Whitcomb, 24
East 37TH Street, Bayonne, N. J., 1904.