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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 Evacuated.

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 stationed.

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, 1776.

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:

Bergen Neck

". . . 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 will find."6

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 Col.

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 20, 1779.

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 Morristown."

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.


1. New Jersey Archives. Second Series, Vol. I.
2. There were only fourteen families in the entire length of Bergen Neck who were pronounced patriots.
3. American Archives. Fifth Series.
4. About Hobart Avenue.
5. Ibid. Fifth Series. 
6. American Archives. Fifth Series.
7. Winfield's History of Hudson County.
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. 573. 


Source: First History of Bayonne, New Jersey, by Royden Page Whitcomb, Published by R. P. Whitcomb, 24 East 37TH Street, Bayonne, N. J., 1904.

 

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