Why do we struggle to preserve a Revolutionary War battleground in our midst? So present and future generations may experience history in one of the storied places where it was made!
Return in time to a frozen crossroads in November 1776, when a moment of transformation sparked in the hearts of shoeless men, poorly armed, in flight, facing the glittering and deadly might of the British Empire. These determined farmers, who would be kings in their own fields and frontier villages, struggled to read a map of the future. The large figure of their Commander-in-Chief, General George Washington, cloak-wrapped, upon a dark horse, gestured westward at what seemed to be a setting sun, its weak rays lighting the long difficult road ahead. The cold shadow of a Liberty Pole crossed their path. Then fortune smiled—the gate was open and in quiet order they crossed a small bridge over a muddy, marsh-fringed Hackensack River, its oak planks spanning one of the great divides in human history.
Sorely tried, those freedom fighters lived to fight another day. Stepping from the line, one citizen-soldier—Thomas Paine, noted author of Common Sense—paused. Taking in the full breadth of the moment, he felt the gaze of even distant eyes watching their progress, hoping against hope, and he thought to himself, “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love, and thanks of man and woman.”
The road from Fort Lee taken on that November day still winds unpretentiously among the sand hills and mires, though now paved and well populated. It still leads to the same crossing-place, forever known (in defiance of time’s empire) as the New Bridge. And those who happen upon this lost fragment of the Jersey Dutch countryside and cross its stream, will discover on its shore an old brownstone mansion, curiously named for the Prussian Inspector-General of the Continental Army, Baron von Steuben. Bypassed by busy highways, its gaze forever turns to the vacillating tides. But its quaint solitude is deceiving, if one truly stops to listen—these walls can talk.
The Revolutionary War events associated with Historic New Bridge Landing compose not only its most dramatic interlude, but also one that lends the place a truly international significance. Here the newly declared, radical Enlightenment concept of popular self-government, however imperfectly conceived, was truly tested. But those cold and overcast patriots only followed well-beaten paths to New Bridge, traipsed by generations of fishermen, farmers, travelers, and traders coming before and after them. The story of Historic New Bridge Landing flows strongly from a historical sense of place. Though changing appearance with each pulse of its tides, the river is an insistent presence, a webbing lace that binds hundreds of generations to the place and to each other—and all of this to us.
King George III’s Birthday Celebration
To learn more about Bergen County’s Royal roots, join the Bergen County Historical Society for its annual commemoration of King George III’s Birthday Celebration from 1 to 4:30 p.m. on June 2 and 3, 2012. To mark the occasion, Historic New Bridge Landing will host re-enactors from the 22nd Regiment of Foot and the 4th Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers, two corps that served extensively during the American Revolution. These living-history groups will engage in drills, weapon demonstrations and explain the lives of the common soldiers in the King’s army. Donation: $7 adult, $5 children, BCHS members free.
The highlight of the weekend celebration will be lectures presented in the Steuben House at 2 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday, June 2, 2012, at 2 p.m., author Don Hagist will speak on “James Simpson, soldier at New Bridge.”
While thousands of British soldiers spent time in New Jersey during the American Revolution, personal details are known about only a few. Don Hagist’s lecture will examine the career of a soldier from the 57th Regiment of Foot who served briefly at New Bridge in 1777. From the time he enlisted to the time he left the army over ten years later, he participated in military campaigns all over the eastern seaboard. The audience will hear of some remarkable information about him that turned up years later.
Saturday’s speaker, Don N. Hagist, is an independent researcher and author who specializes in the demographics of the British Army during the American Revolution. He has written several books and numerous articles on individuals who served in the war. Westholme Publishing will release his latest work, British Soldiers: American War, later this year.
On Sunday, June 3, 2012, at 2 p.m., historian and author Todd Braisted speaks on “All Roads lead to New Bridge: The British Grand Forage of 1777.”
In September 1777, Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton launched a four-pronged invasion of Bergen County with over 2,500 British, German and Provincial soldiers. While the great campaigns of that year were played out below Philadelphia and above Albany, the small British army left at New York City lent its weight to favor both these campaigns, rounding up cattle and produce of Bergen County’s farms. On September 15th, this whole force, its foraging complete, collected at New Bridge Landing.
Sunday’s speaker, noted military historian Todd W. Braisted, is a Past-President of the Bergen County Historical Society and a Fellow in the Company of Military Historians, specializing in the Loyalists in the American Revolution, and the war in Bergen County. He has co-authorized several books, as well as numerous journal articles and lectured extensively in the United States and Canada.
Historian Kevin Wright will lead a guided tour of the three historic houses at 1:15 p.m. and at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday—the first walking tour starting at the Campbell-Christie House and the last tour starting at the Steuben House after the lecture. Visitors may visit the working Jersey Dutch Out-Kitchen and gift shop and enjoy light refreshments, donuts and lemonade, in the restored tavern in the Campbell-Christie House. The lectures will be each day at 2:00 p.m. in the Steuben House.
Ask yourself—Just how valuable are the lessons of history? If you enjoyed this article, then please consider joining the Bergen County Historical Society, a non-profit, 501(c)(3) volunteer organization, founded in 1902. We are dedicated to preserving important evidence of the past and promoting historical literacy through interesting programs and publications.
We don't receive public operating support or grants the way other groups do, but rely entirely upon private donations, membership dues and volunteer contributions of time and talent. We are presently trying to raise $350,000 to construct a first-rate historical museum building and library for Bergen County on the Society’s property at Historic New Bridge Landing, 1201 Main Street, River Edge, NJ 07661. For further information or membership application, visit: http://www.bergencountyhistory.org