Little Falls, New Jersey Revolutionary War Sites
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REVOLUTIONARY WAR SITES IN LITTLE FALLS, NEW JERSEY

Revolutionary War Little Falls New Jersey
THE LITTLE FALLS
Little Falls NJ Revolutionary War Sites
Little Falls, New Jersey

The township of Little Falls takes its name from these falls on the Passaic River which are located behind where the Mill condominiums now stand. Long-time residents of Little Falls will remember this as the location of the Beattie Carpet Mill, which was here from 1844 - 1982. These falls are quite impressive, and were only named the "Little" Falls in relation to the Great Falls located several miles downstream in Paterson. The Little Falls look somewhat different today than they did at the time of the Revolutionary War. This is because in 1887, some blasting of the rocks was done to avoid flooding. [1]

As described below, the area around the Little Falls was the site of a Revolutionary War military encampment in 1780.


The Little Falls
On the Passaic River
Map / Directions to the Little Falls
 

July and October-November, 1780
Colonel Stephen Moylan and the 4th Continental Light Dragoons stationed at the Little Falls
As part of a larger Continental Army encampment in this area

During the periods of July 1-29 and October 9 - November 27 1780, George Washington made his headquarters at Dey Mansion in what is now Wayne. Thousands of Continental (American) Army soldiers were encamped over the surrounding area throughout what are now Totowa, Woodland Park, Little Falls, and Hawthorne. These locations put them behind the protection of the Watchung Mountains.

It can be hard for us living in the 21st century to visualize the importance of the Watchung Mountains during the Revolutionary War. Over two centuries of development and highway building have changed the visible landscape. These changes allow us to easily drive over the Watchung Mountains without taking much notice of them. But in the 1700's, they had a great effect on movement. The cliff walls of the Watchung Mountains created barriers to travel, so that it was often necessary to travel miles out of a direct route in order to get where you wanted to go.

British forces occupied New York City for most of the Revolutionary War, so Washington often positioned his troops in New Jersey to the west of the Watchung Mountains. The ridges of the mountains provided layers of protection that stretched for over 40 miles from Mahwah to Somerset County. [2]

A major break in the cliff wall of the Watchung Mountains in this area was the Great Notch. It is difficult to get a full understanding of how much of a notch in the mountains it was before modern times, but the Great Notch cut through the area where Route 46 now goes through. The name still lives on in the Great Notch section of Little Falls. Because of the Great Notch's importance as a break in the cliff wall, it saw the movements of patrolling troops throughout this period. (See the Rifle Camp Park entry on the Woodland Park page for more information about the Watchung Mountains and the Great Notch.)

During the July 1-29 and October 9-November 27, 1780 periods, Colonel Stephen Moylan and the 4th Continental Light Dragoons were stationed near the Little Falls. Dragoons were cavalry troops, meaning they were soldiers on horseback. There were approximately 192-196 dragoons in the 4th Continental Light Dragoons at this time. They spent much time at the Little Falls during these months, but it was not their constant position. Military correspondence from these months show that Moylan's Dragoons patrolled the roads leading from the Little Falls to places as far as Acquackanonk (now Passaic), Hackensack, and Newark, and that at other times they were moved to different locations in the area. [3]

Given the mobility of Moylan's troops during this period, and the importance of the Great Notch as a pathway through the Watchung Mountains, it is likely that any given spot in what is now the Township of Little Falls had Revolutionary War soldiers walking or riding over them during this period. 

Colonel Moylan's troops were involved with several notable incidents during their time stationed at the Little Falls. Three of these are described below:



Orange New Jersey in the Revolutionary War


The Attack on the Bull's Ferry Blockhouse [4]

On July 20-21, Moylan's troops temporarily left the Little Falls area to take part in an attack on a British blockhouse at Bull's Ferry (modern-day North Bergen). They were part of a larger force of 2000 American troops under General Anthony Wayne who took part in the attack. On the evening of July 20, the forces assembled at New Bridge from where they began a ten-mile march to Bull's Ferry.

The attack on the blockhouse at Bull's Ferry was unsuccessful, and the troops returned to New Bridge on July 21. Afterwards, Moylan's troops returned to their position at the Little Falls.



Orange New Jersey in the Revolutionary War



Two of Moylan's Dragoons are Caught Stealing and are Court-martialed

On July 23, a twenty-two-year-old Second Lieutenant named William S. Pennington paid a visit to his Aunt  in New Barbados Neck (now the Kearny, North Arlington, Lyndhurst area) and found that she had been robbed by two members of Moylan's Dragoons. Pennington tracked the two thieves back to Moylan's camp at the Little Falls and reported them. They were court-martialed two days later.

Pennington kept a diary of his war-time experience. The following excerpts are from his diary, relating to the thievery incident: [5]
(Note that Pennington's punctuation and spelling have been left uncorrected and unmodernized.)

Sunday [July] 23d Earley in the morning I past on to Barbados Neck to Visit my Aunt Standford with an intention to return and Set out for West Point in the Afternoon but when I arriv'd there I found She had [been] robbed of Effects of Considerable Value by a Cople of Col Myland's Dragoons I immediately follow'd the ruffens to the Quarters At the little Falls and had the happiness to Dectect them, and recover the goods. from there I rode to Headquarters and was Detain'd  by the Adj't Gen'l for the tryal of the men and Derected to bring on my Evidence on Tuesday.

Tuesday 25th Early in the morning I When to Second river [now Belleville] and meet my Aunt Standford Agreeable to a promise we made yesterday, and proceeded onto head Quarters for the tryal of the robbers After the tryal was over we Din'd at Col Dey's and rode to the little falls took Coffee with Col Myland and return'd as fas as Second river in the eventing where we lodg'd At Night At Capt DePoyster's

After the war, Pennington went on to a successful political career, including serving as the sixth elected governor of New Jersey. He died in 1826 and is buried at the Old First Presbyterian Church in Newark. [6]



Orange New Jersey in the Revolutionary War


Lafayette

Marquis de Lafayette was a French officer who came to America to fight on the American side in the Revolutionary War. He developed close friendships with Washington, Hamilton, and other Revolutionary War figures.

During most of October and November 1780, General Lafayette and his light infantry troops were encamped in what is now Hawthorne. However, during the period of October 23-29, Lafayette and his light infantry troops moved to Cranetown (now Montclair). [7]

Lafayette's move to Cranetown on the 23rd affected Moylan's troops, as reflected in Washington's General Orders for the day: [8]

"The Corps of Light Infantry will remove from its present encampment and take Post on the most convenient ground to the Cranetown gap and the notch for the more effectual security of our right... Colonel Moylan’s regiment will furnish the necessary patrols and will take a new position for that purpose."

Washington's orders make it clear that Lafayette's troops passed in and around Little Falls en route to Cranetown. "The notch" refers to the Great Notch, which, as noted above, is the break in the Watchung Mountains that route 46 now passes through. The "Cranetown gap" referred to is the gap in the mountain cliffs which is where Bloomfield Ave goes past Pompton Ave from Verona into Montclair. To reach the Cranetown gap, they would likely have traveled in part through Little Falls, including a road which roughly followed the path of modern-day Cedar Grove Road. [9]


Lafayette passed through Little Falls again, more than four decades after the end of the Revolutionary War, when he made a return visit from France to the United States from August 16, 1824 - September 7, 1825. At that time, the United States consisted of only 24 states, and Lafayette visited all of them. As a surviving link to the Revolutionary War, he was greeted warmly at his many stops throughout New Jersey and the rest of the country. [10]

On July 14, 1825, Lafayette passed through Little Falls briefly while traveling throughout Northern New Jersey. The details of his stop in Little Falls are not known, but a newspaper article published five days later stated that after leaving Paterson, Lafayette "set out "for Morris-town, passing the Little Falls, Parsippany, and Whippany in his route, in each of which places the people were eager to hail and welcome the passing stranger." [11]

Little Falls New Jersey - Revolutionary War Sites

Source Notes:

1. ^ Robert R, Beckwith, A History of Little Falls, Centennial Edition (Little Falls Centennial Celebration Committee, 1968) Pages 10-12, 26-28, 40

• The 1982 closing of Beattie Carpet Mill information was drawn from:
Jerry Cheslow, "Converting a Mill; Condos in 19th-Century Structures," The New York Times, February 23, 1990



 ▸  About 230 acres of farmland by the Little Falls were owned at the start of the Revolutionary War by a man named John Gray, a Loyalist who is thought to have actively worked against the American cause in the Revolutionary War.

The stories about Gray's Revolutionary War experience were originally written in "A Brief History of Little Falls N.J." written by Reverend John C. Cruikshank in the1800's. Cruikshank's original document no longer exists, but his stories about John Gray were presented in an address given by Cruikshank's grandson Cornelius D. Vreeland in 1949.
Two publications in the 1960's contained stories about James Gray based on Vreeland's work:

~ Robert P. Brooks, Editor, "Captain James Gray, Ironmaster at Little Falls," Bulletin of the Passaic County Historical Society, Vol. V - No. 6, May, 1962
Available as a PDF on the Passaic County Historical Society website here
 ▸ Introduction states, "The following article is based upon a manuscript in the files of the Society given by the late Cornelius D. Vreeland of Totowa. Mr. Vreeland compiled this from 'A Brief History of the Little Falls, N. J.' written by the Rev. J. C. Cruikshank."

~ Robert R, Beckwith, A History of Little Falls, Centennial Edition (Little Falls Centennial Celebration Committee, 1968) Pages 24-32 (Gray is also mentioned on page 2, 40, 48-49)
 ▸ Beckwith writes on page 26 "A good bit of what we now know about Gray comes from 'A Brief History of Little Falls, New Jersey' written by the Reverend John C. Cruikshank, pastor of the First Reformed Church from 1850 to 1868. Cruikshank's 'History' was passed down through his descendants in the Vreeland family, but at present it has disappeared. Fortunately, much of Cruikshank's material was presented in a Bulletin of the Passaic County Historical Society in May of 1962. What is written here comes largely from that source."
Later, on page 30, Beckwith notes his doubts about the reliability of Cruikshank's account, stating that "The Reverend Cruikshank did not identify any sources for his part of Gray's story. Most of it may be the product of Cruikshank's imagination. Yet, the clergyman was a very methodical and highly intelligent man, and he was reputed to have done much research on the military activities in this area during the Revolution."

Because of the lack of stronger documentation about James Gray's Revolutionary War experience, this page instead focuses on the stationing of Colonel Stephen Moylan's Dragoons at the Little Falls in 1780, for which there is much contemporary documentation (as shown in Source Notes 3, 4, 5, and 8 below).

2. ^ For information about other New Jersey Revolutionary War historic sites associated with the importance of the Watchung Mountains, see the Bridgewater, Elizabeth, Green Brook, Millstone, Morristown, Roselle Park, Scotch Plains, Springfield, Summit, Union, and Woodland Park pages of this website.

3. ^  The following military correspondence of July 5, 1780 includes mentions of Moylan's troops at the Little Falls and their instructions to patrol a wider area.

~ “From James McHenry to Stephen Moylan, 5 July 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-02380. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

~ “From Stephen Moylan to James McHenry, 5 July 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-02381. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

~ “From James McHenry to Stephen Moylan, 5 July 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-02382. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]
▸ James McHenry relates to Moylan that General Washington wished him to move his position from the Little Falls, but apparently this was temporary, since the Pennington incident described above and in Source Note 5 makes it clear that Moylan's troops were at the Little Falls in late July.

~ “From Richard Kidder Meade to Henry Lee, 5 July 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-02379. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]


Washington's orders to Moylan that the troops were moving out of the area on July 29 can be read here:

“From George Washington to Stephen Moylan, 28 July 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-02709. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]


The following orders were issued by Washington on the day the troops returned to this area on October 9:

“General Orders, 9 October 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-03520 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: this is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.
 ▸ The orders state, "Colonel Moylan with his regiment of Cavalry will take post near the little falls and Major Parr with his Corps at the Notch; and both will patrole on the roads towards Newark and Aququakenung."
(See the Rifle Camp Park entry on the Woodland Park page for more information about Major Parr's troops at the Great Notch.)


Washington's General Orders of October 23 show that Moylan's troops were in this area at that time, but their position was affected by the Light Infantry's move to Cranetown:

“General Orders, 23 October 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-03669 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: this is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.
 ▸ The orders state, "The Corps of Light Infantry will remove from its present encampment and take Post on the most convenient ground to the Cranetown gap and the notch for the more effectual security of our right... Colonel Moylan’s regiment will furnish the necessary patrols and will take a new position for that purpose."


It is unclear how much of the remaining October 9-November 27, 1780 period Moylan's troops spent at the Little Falls. The following letters show that for a period of several days in November, Moylan's troops were at Totowa Bridge (by where the West Broadway Bridge in Paterson now spans the Passaic River)

“From George Washington to Stephen Moylan, 21 November 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-04012. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

“From George Washington to Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, 23 November 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-04037. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

“From George Washington to Stephen Moylan, 24 November 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 28, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-04051. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]


The estimated troop strength of approximately 192-196 dragoons was provided to me by Lt. Jack Zarra, Adjutant of the 4th Legionary Corps, which is a "historically recreated cavalry and light infantry regiment dedicated to recreating through living history the trials and activities of the original Revolutionary War military unit."
I would like to thank Lt. Zarra for providing me this information in an email correspondence on January 24, 2017.

4. ^ The following correspondence between General Washington and General Wayne relates to the attack on the blockhouse at Bull's Ferry. Moylan's troops are mentioned specifically in the first, second and fourth letters:

~ “To George Washington from Anthony Wayne, 19 July 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-02573. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

~ “From George Washington to Anthony Wayne, 20 July 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-02587. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

~ “To George Washington from Anthony Wayne, 21 July 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-02606. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

~ “To George Washington from Anthony Wayne, 22 July 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-02629. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

5. ^ William S. Pennington, Edited by William A. Ellis, "Diary of William S. Pennington," Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, Volume 63, No. 4, October 1945, reprinted in:
Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, Volume 63-1945, (Newark: New Jersey Historical Society New Jersey Historical Society, 1945) Pages 199-218 (These entries appear on pages 207-208)

 ▸ Washington's General Orders for July 24, 25, and 26, 1780 show that there was a court-martial held on July 25. The verdicts in several of the cases tried that day are mentioned in the July 26 orders. However, no mention is made of this particular case.

• “General Orders, 24 July 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-02639 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: this is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.

• “General Orders, 25 July 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-02655 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: this is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.

• “General Orders, 26 July 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-02664 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: this is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.

 ▸ Pennington's rank at this time of this incident is not mentioned in the diary, but according to Stryker's Official Register, Pennington had been made a Second Lieutenant on September 12, 1778:
William S. Stryker, Official Register of the Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Revolutionary War (Trenton: Wm. T. Nicholson & Co., 1872)  Page 101
Available to be read at Google Books here

6. ^ For more details about Pennington's political career, see biographical note about him on the New Jersey Historical Society website.

7. ^ For more information and accompanying source notes about these events, see the Hawthorne and Montclair pages of this website.

8. ^ “General Orders, 23 October 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-03669 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: this is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.
 ▸ As explained in Source Note 4, it is unclear how much of the remaining October 9-November 27 1780 period Moylan's troops spent at the Little Falls.

9. ^ There is a plaque on Woods Road in Little Falls stating that the road was "created 1780 by Revolutionary War troops of General Lafayette, while manning outposts to watch British troop movements."
However, in my research for the events of 1780 I could locate no evidence for this, and found sufficient reason to conclude that the road was not created by Lafayette's troops. Therefore, I believe that the Woods Road plaque is incorrect.

10. ^ Other New Jersey historic sites associated with Lafayette's 1824/1825 visit to America can be found in Elizabeth, Hackensack, Morristown, Newark, Paramus, Rahway, and Woodbridge.

11. ^ "Gen. La Fayette.'The Nation's Guest'...," Sentinel of Freedom, and New-Jersey Advertiser [Newark] July 19, 1825; No. 42, Vol. XXIX, Page 3
 ▸ A larger quote from the relevant section of this article appears below:

" 'The Nation's Guest' took his final leave of the citizens of New-York on Thursday morning last on his tour south, preparatory to his embarkation for his native country.  He was escorted from his lodgings in Broadway to the Hoboken Ferry by the military, where he crossed the North river and proceeded directly to Hackensack, where he was received with a thousand welcomes by the patriotic citizens of that village. After breakfast he continued his journey to Paterson, where after receiving the hospitalities of the citizens, and minutely examining and admiring this 'Manchester of America,' he [set] out for Morris-town, passing the Little Falls, Parsippany, and Whippany in his route, in each of which places the people were eager to hail and welcome the passing stranger. Though engaged to dine at Morris-town, he did not reach that place until 6 o'clock in the afternoon."

I would like to thank Rebecca Grabie of the New York Historical Society's Patricia D. Klingenstein Library for taking the time to locate a copy of this newspaper and send me photos of it.


I would like to thank the staff of the Little Falls Library for providing me access to their local history collection,
and helping me track down some of the documents that went into my research for this page.

Website Researched, Written, Photographed and Designed by Al Frazza
This website, its text and photographs are © 2009 -2017 Al Frazza. All rights reserved.