Historic Places of Colonial and Revolutionary Times, Orange County, New York
In almost every locality of the County of Orange can be found places of historic interest, where scenes were enacted that have become a part of our national history and are closely related to the founding of the National Government. Many of these spots of historic interest relate to early Colonial days, when the locality now known as Orange County was a vast uninhabited forest, peopled by Indians, from whom the early pioneers purchased their lands. Still other places relate to the revolutionary struggle for independence and are rich with the memories of scenes enacted in those heroic times.
To relate in full the history of those days would be a. gigantic task and has been ably done by others who have filled volumes that are now regarded as standard histories, and the only intention of the present volume is to renew the public interest in the outstanding events of those days in brief narrative sketches.
In the center of what is now the City of Newburgh stands an ancient stone dwelling, surrounded by spacious grounds, on a commanding eminence overlooking the beautiful Newburgh Bay. It was formerly known as the old Hasbrouck house, but since coming into the possession of the State, is now known as Washington’s Headquarters. Washington made this house his headquarters from April 1782 until August 1783. The property came into the possession of the State in 1849, and was formally dedicated on July 4, 1850, when General Win-field Scott raised the flag on the flagstaff. Here are situated the State Museum containing hundreds of relics relating to those early days, and the Tower of Victory. This monument is the result of a movement commenced in the years 1880-81, and was designed as a fitting monument to mark not only that spot but also the encampment grounds at New Windsor and those at Fishkill. It bears this inscription: “This monument was erected under the authority of the Congress of the United States, and of the State of New York, in commemoration of the disbandment, under proclamation of the Continental Congress of October 18, 1783, of the armies by whose patriotic and military virtue our national independence and sovereignty were established.” The total cost of the monument was $67,000.
The Headquarters house is of three parts. The southeast part is the oldest and dates back thirty or forty years before the Revolution.
Washington and his family occupied the entire house. His family consisted of himself, his wife, and his aides-de-camp, Major Tighlam, Col. Humphreys and Major Walker. The large room, which is entered from the piazza on the east, known as the room with seven doors and one window, was Washington’s dining room, the northeast room was his bedroom, and the one adjoining it on the left was his private office. The family room was in the southeast, the parlor was the northwest room, and the southwest room was the kitchen.
The capture of Burgoyne’s army at the battle of Saratoga, gave the Revolutionary forces the control of the Highlands and this district became the strategic center of the entire war, hence the presence of Washington and the major portion of his army were concentrated at this point. While the English cannon boomed at New York and Quebec, the extremes of the line, the Revolutionary forces guarded the Highland passes on both sides of the Hudson, and from the center of the field the Hasbrouck house at Newburgh and the Ellison house at New Windsor Washington watched, through his secret service, the movements of his powerful enemy.
The Falls house, where the British messenger swallowed the silver bullet containing the note from Sir Henry Clinton to Burgoyne, announcing the fall of the Highland forts, was located in Little Britain Square, a few miles west of Newburgh, a locality formed by the intersection of three country roads. This house was condemned by the Water Board of the City of Newburgh a few years ago and destroyed.
George Clinton, first Governor of the State of New York, and fourth Vice-President of the United States, was born near Newburgh, and for years maintained a Summer residence, which he termed a “rural seat,” on the shore of the river at New Windsor. He was the owner of this house at the time he was in command of the patriot forces in the defense of Fort Montgomery. It was subsequently called the Christie house, from its long occupancy by the family of that name. The school that Clinton attended, (Stonefield), is located near Salisbury Mills.
General James Clinton, brother of George, and father of DeWitt Clinton, was also born in New Windsor, about two miles west of Little Britain Church.
The Welling House, in New Windsor, was the birthplace of Dr. Thomas Young, the leader of the patriot band that threw the tea overboard in Boston harbor.
The Edmonston house, in New Windsor, is said to have been the headquarters of Gen. St. Clair, and also the headquarters of the medical staff when the Continental army was encamped at New Windsor.
The older part of the Brewster house, at New Windsor, was built by Samuel Brewster in 1768. It was at his forge the chain was made that was placed across the Hudson River. The site of the forge at Moodna is marked by a boulder.
What can be claimed without fear of contradiction, one of the most sacred patriotic shrines in all this great Republic, is the site of the “Temple,” or Public Building, on Temple Hill, a half-mile from the little village of Vail’s Gate, some three miles west of Newburgh, an illustration of which appears elsewhere. It was here that Washington declared occurred the greatest crisis in the long struggle. Here the great Washington exhibited to the world the noblest traits of his character and demonstrated his unselfish patriotism which has since been the admiration of all mankind.
The joy caused by the outcome of the struggle for liberty was not unmixed with danger to the existing government. The soldiers viewed the coming disbandment of the army with many forebodings for the future. They were ill-clothed, poorly fed, and for many months neither officers nor men had received any pay, for the treasury was empty and there was no hope of its immediate replenishment.
Although victory had been achieved and the freedom of their country assured, the present government was in debt, its future uncertain, and many of them looked upon the future with a fear that their hardships were only begun. On May 6, 1782, a dangerous mutiny was discovered among the soldiers of the Connecticut line. It had been conducted with great secrecy, and was on the point of execution before it was discovered. The soldiers had determined to march at reveille the next morning to Fishkill, where they in-tended taking a number of field pieces, with ammunition and provisions, and proceed to Hartford and demand of the Assembly that justice which they considered their due. The most guilty were arrested and the ringleader was sentenced to death.
So general was there a feeling that the present government was too weak to ever establish a stable government of Republican form, that Colonel Nicola, an officer greatly respected, addressed a letter to Washington in May, 1782, in which, professing to speak for the army, he declared that a Republic was the least stable of all forms of government, and that the English Government was the nearest to perfection that could be established.
“Owing to the prejudice of the people,” he said, “it might not be at first prudent to assume the title of royalty, but if all things were once adjusted, we believe strong arguments might be produced for admitting the title of King.” Washington’s reply was a stern rebuke administered in a letter to Col. Nicola, in which he said:
“It is with a mixture of surprise and astonishment I have read the sentiments you have submitted to my perusal. Be assured, sir, no occurrences in the course of the war have given me more painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing in the army as you have expressed, which I must view with abhorrence and reprehend with severity. I am much at loss to conceive what part of my conduct has given encouragement to an address, which to me, seems big with the greatest mischief that can befall my country. If I am not deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not find a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable.
Let me conjure you, then, if you have any regard for your country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind.”
In the latter part of 1782 the discontent in the army was more intense than ever before and a committee of the army visited Congress in December but failed to receive any encouragement from that body for relief. The futile errand of this committee resulted in the publication of the celebrated “Newburgh Letters,” of which two were published in pamphlet form and circulated anonymously. They were written with great power and ability and were in tone treasonable in their utterances. One of them advised them to assert their power and compel Congress to right their wrongs, and another concluded: “Can you consent to wade through the vile mire of dependency and owe the remnant of that life to charity which has hitherto been spent in honor? If you can, go, and carry with you the jest of Tories, the scorn of Whigs, and what is worse, the pity of the world. Go, starve and be forgotten.” Growing bold in his indignation the writer swept down on Washington himself and exclaimed: “Suspect the man who would advise to more moderation and longer forbearance. Let nothing but death separate you from your arms.” With this address was circulated privately a notification of a meeting of officers at the new building on the following Tuesday. In general orders, March 11, Washington expressed disapproval of such disorderly proceedings, and at the same time requested the general and field officers, and one officer from each company, and a proper representation of the staff of the army, to assemble at 12 o’clock on the following Saturday at the New Building to hear the report of the committee of the army to Congress.
General Gates presided at the meeting and deep solemnity pervaded the assemblage. Amid the most profound silence Washington ascended the platform and commenced reading his address, in which he said in part: “Gentlemen, by an anonymous summons an attempt has been made to assemble you together. How inconsistent with the rules of propriety, how unmilitary, and how subversive of all order and discipline, let the good sense of the army decide.” Here it is said, he paused for a moment and drew out his spectacles, carefully wiped them, and while doing so remarked: “These eyes, my friends, have grown dim, and these locks white in the service, yet I have never doubted the justice of my country. This “simple remark under the circumstances, had a powerful effect on the assembly.
He concluded his address with these memorable words:
“Let me conjure you in the name of the common country, as you value your own sacred honor, as you respect the rights of humanity and the National character of America, to express the utmost horror and detestation of the man who wishes under any specious pretence to overturn the liberties of our country, who wickedly attempts to open the floodgates of civil discord and drench our rising Empire in blood. By thus determining and thus acting you will pursue the plain and direct road to the attainment of your wishes-you will defeat the insidious designs of our enemies, who are compelled to resort from open force to secret artifice, and you will give once more distinguished proof of unexampled patriotism and patient virtue, rising superior to the most complicated sufferings, and you will by the dignity of your conduct, afford occasion for posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to mankind: Had this day been wanting, the world had never seen the last stage of perfection to which human virtue is capable of attaining.”
Washington then descended from the platform and walked out of the building, leaving the officers to discuss the matter, unrestrained by his presence. Their conference was brief, and by unanimous vote resolutions, were passed expressing unshaken confidence in their chief and in Congress. Over forty years elapsed before it was discovered that the writer of these anonymous addresses was Major John Armstrong, one of General Gate’s aides, who after the war held civil offices of distinction in the service of the Government.