Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Continental Village

In the darkness of night on October 6, 1777 the Governor of New York and the Commander of Continental Forces in the Highlands convened a Council of War at Continental Village.  They agreed to abandon this important gateway to the Highlands.  Three days later the British burned "the Village" to the ground.


George Clinton was the newly elected Governor of the State of New York.  As such he was also the Commander in Chief of the State Militia.  Just a few hours prior to the Council of War he had escaped capture by the British.  He had been commanding the troops at Fort Montgomery when it fell to the British.  In the confusion of gunpowder smoke and dusk he had escaped across the river.  From there he rode the winding four miles through the passes and valleys from Anthony's Nose to Continental Village. (probably along the route of the current South Mountain Pass Road).

Governor Clinton was seeking the man to whom he had sent two unanswered messages earlier in the day.  That would be the portly General Israel Putnam, Commander of all of the Continental Troops in the Highlands.  Putnam had just returned from Fort Independence by way of the Paper Mills  (a route that would be close to the current Sprout Brook Road and the yellow line below.).

The red marker on the far left is Fort Montgomery from where Gov Clinton began his flight to Continental Village on October 6, 1777.  He likely came ashore to the north of Anthony's Nose (the point on the Hudson River designated with another red marker).  The road through the mountains is approximated by the red line.

Yesterday Putnam had sent Clinton a note that the enemy had landed at Fort Independence (see red marker at bottom of map) and had requested that Clinton send "sixty men out of the Fort [Montgomery] to the top of Anthony's Nose to secure that Pass."  Clinton complied with that order by sending out fifty men under the command of Captain Lee of Colonel Dubois 5th New York regiment.  This left Clinton's small force at Fort Montgomery even more vulnerable.

It is likely that several militiamen were in the party ordered to Anthony's Nose.   A militia private named Oliver Humphrey from New Windsor in McClaughrey's regiment stated in his pension record that he was ordered into a detachment to guard the chain on the other side of the river.  Perhaps this was yet a separate party from Captain Lee's, but if it is not, the two parties must have been deployed very close to each other on Anthony's Nose.  And if militia were employed, perhaps also a Campbell was lucky enough to be in this group that "remained in sight of the whole action until the fort was taken," but was not in the line of fire.

The letter that Governor Clinton had sent at 8:00 am on this day to General Putnam took eight hours to find itself in the hands of someone at the Headquarters for the Highlands!! (The HQ is presumed to have  moved to Continental Village from Peekskill due to the presence of British in the River?).  General Putnam was not present so it was opened by Colonel Wyllys.  Clinton's intelligence of a large landing of British troops proceeding up the West of the Hudson was new to the officers on the East side.  The Connecticut regiments of Wyllys, Meigs, and Webb immediately marched to the ferry across from Fort Montgomery but the firing had stopped and the forts had fallen by the time they arrived at the river.

Putnam confessed that he knew very early that day that the British had landed on the West shore of the Hudson as he could see the smoke from burning buildings, but he was not convinced they were marching toward Fort Montgomery and Fort Clinton (the sister fort on the opposite site of Popolopen Creek.).  Putnam knew what a difficult march that would be.  Certainly the British could bring no artillery with them on the unimproved roads in that part of the Highlands.  So he took no action.

Just a few hours before the Council of War, Putnam had stopped at the Paper Mills to pen this very delinquent note to Governor Clinton.
"D'r General,
I am this moment returned from Fort Independence, and find that the Party of the Enemy which were said to have landed last night at that Fort is without foundation, by the Inhabitants who lives just by Fort Independence, I am informed that the Enemy have Landed betwixt Kings Ferry and Dunderbarrack, if thats the case, they mean to attack Fort Montgomery by land, (which when I am sure off), shall Immediately Reinforce you.
I am D'r Genl. Your Very Hble.
[Israel Putnam]"
With the fall of Fort Montgomery and Fort Clinton, the British had control of the Hudson River from New York City to Albany.  They would spend the next several weeks raiding, plundering, and burning the villages and outposts from Fort Montgomery to Esopus (Kingston).  The Continental Village would be one of their first targets, a major supply depot and encampment for the Northern Army.

Prior to becoming a supply depot, this area was just a "creek crossing" on the Post Road from New York to Albany.   Its designation as the "Post Road" was as early as 1703.  Hence it was well worn by the time of the Revolutionary War.  The lively Canopus Brook crossed the road.  Slightly downstream of its crossing the brook provided power for a grist mill, saw mill, and fulling mill owned by Loyalist Beverley Robinson.  Yet further downstream was the paper mill mentioned by General Putnam (there was also a paper mill closer to Peekskill which could also have been the one where Putnam penned his note.)  Built by John Keating in 1774, it would be burned to the ground by the British on October 9.

The first use of this area as a supply depot and encampment was likely in late 1776, perhaps as late as after the retreat from White Plains in November 1776.  When a local monument was dedicated in 1921, Stuyvesant Fish said "The first troops to be stationed here in 1776 were three Connecticut brigades, in one of which my father's father, Nicholas Fish was Brigade Major. General Heath, who was in command, erected barracks in this place, and it came to be called Continental Village."

By March 12, 1777 the strategic nature of the spot was evident to General George Washington.  He wrote in a letter to General Schuyler as follows:
"Under these considerations, I can not help thinking much too large a part of our force is directed to Ticonderoga.  Peekskill appears to me a much more proper place, where, if the troops are drawn together, they will be advantageously situated to give support to any of the Eastern or Middle States.  Should the enemy's design be to penetrate the country up the North River, they will be well stationed to cover it; if they move westward, the Eastern and Southern troops can easily form a junction; and besides, it will oblige the enemy to have a much stronger garrison at New York."

Because Peekskill itself was vulnerable to an attack by water (the Peekskill Creek was navigable up to the city), it was natural that the actual gathering place moved to the more defendable Continental Village.  This fact was born out on March 22, 1777 when Peekskill was attacked by eight flat bottom boats driving the Americans to the safety of Gallows Hill in Continental Village.

By the summer of 1777 the Continental Village had barracks for 1500, storage for arms and munitions, baking ovens, herds of cattle, and possibly even a hospital.

Joseph Plumb Martin describes in his memoirs a place likely to be Continental Village, although he does not name it as such.   His story starts near the end of May 1777:
"I was soon after this transaction, ordered off, in company with about four hundred others of the Connecticut forces, to a set of old barracks, a mile or two distant (from Peekskill) in the Highlands, to be inoculated with the small pox.  We arrived at and cleaned out the barracks, and after two or three days received the infection, which was on the last day of May.  We had a guard of Massachusetts troops to attend us.  Our hospital stores were deposited in a farmer's barn in the vicinity of our quarters.  One day, about noon, the farmer's house took fire and was totally consumed, with every article of household stuff it contained, although there were five hundred men within fifty rods of it, and many of them within five, when the fire was discovered, which was not till the roof had fallen in.  Our officers would not let any of the inoculated men go near the fire, and the guard had enough to do to save the barn, the fire frequently catching in the yard and on the roof, which was covered with thatch or straw.....

I had the small pox favorable as did the rest, generally; we lost none; but it was more by good luck, or rather a kind Providence interfering, than by my good conduct that I escaped with life.  There was a considerable large rivulet which ran directly in front of the barracks [Canopus Brook?]; in this rivulet were many deep places and plenty of a species of fish called suckers.  One of my roommates, with myself, went off one day, the very day on which the pock began to turn upon me, we went up the brook until we were out of sight of the people at the barracks, when we undressed ourselves and went into the water, where it was often to our shoulders, to catch suckers by means of a fish-hook fastened to the end of a rod; -we continued at the business three or four hours, and when we came out of the water the pustules of the small pox were well cleansed.  We then returned to the barracks, and I, feeling a pretty sharp appetite after my expedition, went to the side of the brook where the nurses had been cooking and eating their dinners; I found a kettle standing there half full of stewed peas, and, if I remember rightly, a small piece of pork with them.  I knew the kettle belonged to the nurses in our room, and therefore conceived myself the better entitled to its contents .....

I left the hospital on the sixteenth day after I was inoculated, and soon after joined the regiment,..... "
The importance of Continental Village was stated by the leader of the attack on Fort Montgomery, General Henry Clinton:
October 9, 1777 - Fort Montgomery  “Major-Gen. Tryon, who was detached this morning with Emmerick’s chasseurs, fifty yagers and royal fusiliers and regiment of Trumback, with a three-pounder, to destroy the rebel settlement called the Continental village, has just returned and reported to me, that he has burned the barrack for fifteen hundred men, several store-houses and loaded wagons. I need not point out to your excellency the consequence of destroying this post, as it was the only establishment of the rebels on that part of the Highlands, and the place from whence any body of troops drew their supplies.”
Continental Village was at least partially rebuilt and used during the remainder of the war by the Americans.  When the post road was diverted to the new turnpike to the west in 1806 it left this historical area less traveled and less developed.  The preservation of ruins appears to be quite unintentional.  There are few markers and fewer trails.  A map prepared by Ginny Gilbert [p. 9] is a great help, but yet, to the out-of-town visitor who is respectful of private property, it is a challenge to get a feel for the scope of the 1777 village.

I hope to get some more specific information from local experts on this, but are a few tips if you go for a visit.

Court of Inquiry into the Loss of Forts Montgomery and Clinton, Alexander McDougall Papers, New York Historical Society.
A short history of Continental Village,  and
George Clinton Papers
Lossings Pictorial Field-book of the Revolution

A Visit to Continental Village (New York)

If you want to visit the revolutionary sites in Continental Village, this may be of some help.  I am hardly an expert on this small patch of real estate.  When I find an expert, I will update the information below.
Village sign on Gallows Hill Road
I started with the map and key created by Ginny Gilbert.  You can find it here on page 9:

I have created a google map from which you can get GPS coordinates of the various sites.  You can access it here:

Let me step you through it.

Entering the village from the south on Gallows Hill road (coming from Peekskill) you will cross the Peekskill River, curve to the right, and start climbing Gallows Hill.  On the northwest corner of the first intersection (Kingston Ave.) on the left is a marker explaining the origin of the name of the hill.  It is easy to miss.

Gallows Hill marker on left at Kingston Ave.
Gallows Hill marker looking at private driveway.

Gallows Hill marker

[Need story on who and when executed.  Or is it unknown?  See Lossing's Pictorial Field-book on this.  He says only that it was a British spy and that the hangman was a "Peterson" who was haunted to his grave.]

If you continue further up Gallows Hill Road there is a mile-marker on the left (west) side just past the driveway of house number 115.  Once again, it is easy to miss.

Mile marker number 51 in stone enclosure.
Mile marker number 51.
Mile markers along the Albany Post Road were erected as early as 1763 when Benjamin Franklin was named as postmaster.  The markers that stand today were probably erected in about 1790 (and later protected with the stone enclosures).  The diversion of the highway to the west happened in 1806 leaving the route through Continental Village thinly traveled in the 19th and 20th centuries.

If you turn around and go back to Kingston Ave and take a right, you will climb to the level area on top of Gallows Hill that was likely the site of the Headquarters and Parade ground of Continental Village.  Now it is filled with homes, but if you drive down Buena Vista Ave to the south edge of the hill, you might be able envision why this high level spot with a view of Peekskill (when the trees had been removed for shelters, heating, and cooking) might have been chosen as the center of a fortification.

Exit the Parade grounds area on Lakeview Rd and follow Sprout Brook Road back out to Gallows Hill Road.  Take a right (south) and turn in the Cul-de-sac called Poe Ct.  Despite all of the "Private Property" signs I have parked near house number 149 and talked with the very friendly owner.  Directly behind #149 are what is described by Ginny Gilbert as "Seven crude foundations and the remains of red brick ovens."   I have no clue as to whether these date to the revolution.  If so, it would make for some very interesting archeological work.

Remains of stone wall or foundation near Poe Ct
Fallen trees over ruins of foundation by Poe Ct
Depression and foundation walls near Poe Ct
Pit and foundation near Poe Ct.
Turn left (north) back onto Gallows Hill Road and proceed to the crossing over Canopus Brook.  This was the location of Robinson's Bridge.  Ginny Gilbert's "key" states that "the 1732 House on the corner of Winston Lane is said to have been the site of the Revolutionary Supply Depot.  Other accounts place the depot, headquarters, and ovens on Gallows Hill..."

Looking northwest from the bridge you will see a sizable hill.  From its crest or even on the lower outcroppings is a great view up and down the Canopus Brook valley.  Additionally there is a direct view of the Post Road from Peekskill.  This would have been a great place for a redoubt.  [Need to look at the Erskine maps.]  You can park in the Deli parking lot and venture up the hill.  Ginny talks of a cannon placement here, but I could not find it.

View through trees of Post Road from hill above Deli.  In 1777 the trees would have been removed.  This is about one third of the way up the hill.
From the Deli you can also walk north along the Post Road to the next mile marker, number 52.  It is on the left side (west) of the road. 

Mile marker # 52
Mile Marker # 52 on Old Albany Post Road
Continue walking to the fork in the road.  Here is the Monument to the Mothers of the Revolution.  It was placed on the 144th anniversary of its burning by the British, October 9, 1921.

Monument to Mothers of the Revolution at Continental Village
Inscription on Monument to Mothers of the Revolution
The monument was donated by Stuyvesant Fish.  He was the son of Hamilton Fish, a New York Governor, Senator, and Secretary of State. Stuyvesant was a successful railroad executive.  He was 70 at the dedication and would die about one year later.  His home (designed by Stanford White) in New York City at 25 East 78th St at Madison Avenue still stands.

When it was dedicated the New York Times ran an article on it.  You can see it from their 1921 archives here:

Looking north you can see another good hill for a redoubt.  Ginny Gilberts map says there was a redoubt on this hill, but it is not marked, and the area has seen some grading over the years.   The Catskill Aquaduct passes through this hill and was obviously the site of a lot of construction at one time. If you walk up Old Albany Post Rd to house number 11 and get permission to walk up their driveway and onto the hill, you may find something that looks like a redoubt.

Man made rock and dirt wall on hill above house # 11. Redoubt?
View south from "redoubt" on hill above house # 11.
After walking back to your car at the Deli, take a short drive up Sprout Brook Road (also called Canopus Brook Rd?).  On the right hand side of the road you can see flats along the river that were undoubtedly good for farming and a logical place for barracks.  The site is close to water and forests for wood.  The Gilbert "key" says "Barracks for 1500 to 2000 men - described as being 1/4 mile up Canopus Brook Road from the Old Albany Post Road split."

Turn around and head back to the bridge.  This next section is the site of the several revolutionary era mills along Canopus Brook.  It is probably best to walk this section also as it is short and there is no good place to park a car.  I suggest parking at the Deli again and walking down Winston Lane.  I have not done this yet, so you are forewarned.

Canopus Brook at Robinson's Bridge (Gallow Hill Road crossing)
Road marker on Winston Lane for Robinson's mills
Road marker on Winston Lane for Keating paper mill of 1774.
Thats enough to get you started.  Please add a comment if I got something wrong or you know of additional CV sites that should not be missed.