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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Second River and the Confusion of History

Just north of Branch Brook Park in Newark is a plaque on a boulder that commemorates the Battle of Second River in September 1777.  Here is a view of it.

At the time, the current town of Belleville was known as the Village of Second River.  Second River, which flows under the bridge in the image, is the Watsessing River, a tributary of the Passaic River.

The battle was part of a foraging expedition of British General Henry Clinton, and various sources, including at least one pension record, corroborate a stand made in this area by local militia that ultimately fell back when British reinforcements arrived.  Sources indicate two Americans killed and eight British killed, so as Revolutionary War skirmishes go, this was somewhat significant in terms of casualties.    And yet, there is no mention of this on these dates in Howard Peckham's The Toll of Independence.  In David Munn's Battles and Skirmishes of the American Revolution in New Jersey, there are two listings for actions at Second River--one on January 27, 1777 and one on June 1, 1779, but no mention of the September action.  

We do have the rather graphic description of one Nathaniel Broadwell who said that in 1777:

"this Deponant apprehends in the month of September of that year that a battle was fought between the British and the Americans in late War between them, at Second River in the County [of Essex] and State aforesaid that during the said Battle this deponent being in the advanced Guard under the command of Cap't Daniel Brown found Stephen Ogden of Morristown at Head Quarters at Ward Session after said Battle confined with a wound it was said he received in said Battle with a Bullet entering his left side and that he this Deponent saw Doct'r Bern Budd with his instruments cut and take out the Ball from the right side of the said Stephen Ogden's Body and that the said Stephen Ogden remained at his own house for some time afterwards Confined with the said Wound."

Other local historians put the action in September 1777 and note that the final action occurred in this area of the boulder.

Friday, April 18, 2014


Tomorrow, April 19, marks the anniversary of the "battle" of Lexington.  This was less a battle than an unintentional skirmish that grew into the battle of Concord.  Nonetheless, we grow up learning about the "Battle of Lexington and Concord."

Visitors to Lexington can observe markers showing the line formed by Captain John Parker and his 70 or so militiamen:

No one today knows who fired the first shot.  At the time, the Americans blamed the British and the British blamed the Americans.  The voice of American minuteman Sylvanus Wood, 23 reaches across the centuries: "[t]he British troops approached us rapidly in platoons, with a General officer on horse-back at their head.  The officer came up to within about two rods of the centre of the company, where I stood.--The first platoon being about three rods distant.  They there halted.  The officer then swung his sword, and said, 'Lay down your arms, you damn'd rebels, or you are all dead men--fire.' Some guns were fired by the British at us from the first platoon, but no person was killed or hurt, being probably charged only with powder.  Just at this time, Captain Parker ordered every man to take care of himself.  The company immediately dispersed; and while the company was dispersing and leaping over the wall, the second platoon of the British fired, and killed some of our men.  There was not a gun fired by any of Captain Parker's company within my knowledge."

British Lieutenant John Barker, also present, disagreed: "At 5 o’clock we arrived there and saw a number of people, I believe 2 and 3 hundred, formed on a common in the middle of the town; we still continued advancing, keeping prepared against an attack tho’ without intending to attack them, but on our coming near them they fired on or two shots, upon which our men without any orders rushed in upon them, fired and put ‘em to flight; several of them were killed, we could not tell how many because they were got behind walls and into the woods; We had a man of the 10th Light Infantry wounded, nobody else hurt. We then formed upon the common but with some difficulty, the men were so wild they could hear no orders; we waited a considerable time there and at length proceeded on our way to Concord, which we then learnt was our destination, in order to destroy a magazine of stores collected there."

     Voices from the past speak to us from the Green on this anniversary.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Revolution and Contemporary Secession

I've talked in other posts about the Patriot invasion of Canada during the Revolution, and the taking of Montreal and the assault on Quebec.  Here is a view of the St. Louis Gate that saw some action during the Battle of Quebec on December 31, 1775.

General George Washington, placed in overall command of the American forces after Lexington and Concord, attempted a direct outreach to the Canadian citizenry.  By letter dated September 6, 1775, he attempted to vilify the British and justify American action.  He minced no words, and indulged in his own inflamed rhetoric.  He told them that "the Great American Congress have sent an Army into your Province . . . not to plunder but to protect you." Ironically, the Southern slaveowner wrote to the Canadians that "[t]he cause of America and of liberty is the cause of every virtuous American Citizen Whatever may be his Religion or his descent, the United Colonies know no distinction, but such as Slavery, Corruption and Arbitrary Domination may create."

We of course then invaded Canada in an attempt to seize Canadian territory and make it part of America, as the fourteenth colony.

There is a pending election in Quebec that will determine if a referendum on Quebec separation will be held, as well as in the United Kingdom, a pending referendum in Scotland on secession.   One wonders if the Patriots under Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery had succeeded in capturing and holding Quebec if "Canada" would have remained as part of colonies that signed the Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution, and if so, how the United States would react to such referendums.  We of course fought a civil war to preserve the union.  We now also have had some states that were independent nations, however briefly.  And there are certain counties in certain places that are seeking to establish themselves as separate states within the U.S.  Not necessarily new or unique thoughts to think about, but made topical as we watch Scotland and Quebec.