Jersey City, New Jersey Revolutionary War Sites
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REVOLUTIONARY WAR SITES IN JERSEY CITY, NEW JERSEY

Jersey City New Jersey Revolutionary War Sites
PAULUS HOOK
Paulus Hook - Revolutionary War
Paulus Hook

Paulus Hook
Washington and Grand Streets
Map / Directions to the Paulus Hook Fort Site

Paulus Hook

The neighborhood of Jersey City known as Paulus Hook was the site of military activity for almost the entire Revolutionary War. The area looked much different during the Revolutionary War than it does today. The modern paved and developed streets which now surround Paulus Hook were then marshland, which effectively made Paulus Hook a small island. [1] Its strategic importance lay in its location - less than a mile across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

 

Paulus Hook in 1776

After General George Washington and the Continental (American) Army achieved an early success in the Revolutionary War by driving British forces out of Boston in March 1776, they headed to New York City to attempt to fortify it against an anticipated British invasion of that city. The British had a large and powerful navy, and their strategy was to occupy New York City and gain control of the Hudson River in order to split the thirteen colonies in two.

On June 29, British ships began arriving in the New York harbor. Over the next two months, a steady stream of additional ships would arrive, carrying more and more British and Hessian troops. The Americans set up defenses on both the New Jersey and New York sides of the Hudson River to try to impede the movements of British vessels up and down the river. One of these defenses was set up at Paulus Hook. [2]

Some of the troops at Paulus Hook were members of an army unit called the Flying Camp, because it was meant to be a quickly-deployed mobile force. The recently formed Flying Camp was under the command of General Hugh Mercer. [3]

On several occasions throughout July, August, and September, gunfire was exchanged between the soldiers at Paulus Hook and British ships sailing past it on the Hudson River. [4] On September 22, British forces began an attempted attack on Paulus Hook but called off the attack. The following day, the Americans abandoned the fort; British forces landed at Paulus Hook and took over the fort. [5]

When British forces took control of Paulus Hook, they made major improvements and enhancements to the fort. [6] As a result, the fort became highly protected and appeared to be safe from an American attack. On several occasions, American troops ventured into the areas near Paulus Hook, but none were able to mount a serious attack on the fort. [7] That changed in August 1779.

 

The Battle of Paulus Hook - August 19, 1779

A successful attack on the British fort at Paulus Hook was made on August 19, 1779, by troops under the command of Major Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee. Lee was a twenty-three year old officer from Virginia, where he had known George Washington before the war. Lee had spent time in New Jersey before the war; he attended Princeton University , which was then called the College of New Jersey, graduating in 1773.

Lee was a cavalry officer whose equestrian skills had earned him the nickname "Light-Horse Harry." However, the attack he lead on Paulus Hook involved no cavalry; it involved many miles of marching on foot over difficult terrain.

At 4 PM on August 18, Lee with about 400 troops set out from New Bridge, in what is now River Edge, crossed to the east side of the Hackensack River and marched about fifteen miles south towards Paulus Hook. The attack was planned to begin shortly after midnight, but difficulties along the march delayed it until after 3 am. Many of the troops had gotten lost along the way, and Lee had to make his attack with about half of the 400 men he had started out with.

Even with his reduced manpower, Lee's troops were able to make a successful surprise attack on the fort. Using only bayonets because their gunpowder was wet from wading through the marshes around the fort, they inflicted many casualties and took 158 prisoners.

Lee chose not to burn the fort's barracks when he found that the wives and children of some of the British soldiers were living there, as well as ill soldiers. As he later explained in his report to General Washington, "I intended to have burnt the Barracks, but on finding a Number of sick Soldiers and Women with young Children in them, humanity forbad the Execution of my intention."

Lee and his men then retreated up what is now Newark Avenue in Jersey City. Their original plan called for them to cross over the Hackensack River near Paulus Hook and take a safer route back to New Bridge on the western side of the river. However, due to confusion, boats which were supposed to be waiting for them at the river were not there, and they had to march back the path they came. Along the way, they were fired on by enemy at various points on their retreat, but they managed to make it back to New Bridge safely at 1 PM without losing any of their 158 prisoners. Lee's men had suffered only five casualties - two dead and three wounded. Estimates of British killed range from thirty to fifty. The mission which had begun twenty-three hours before and had covered about thirty miles of marching had been a great success. [8]

 

American Reaction to the Battle of Paulus Hook

George Washington was very pleased with the results of the attack on Paulus Hook, and he praised Lee and his soldiers in his General Orders to the army three days after the battle. [9] Washington then wrote to Congress to inform them of the battle, stating that Lee "displayed a remarkable degree of prudence address enterprise and bravery upon this occasion—which does the highest honor to himself and to all the officers and men under his command. The situation of the Post rendered the attempt critical and the success brilliant." [10]

In a strange turn of events, Lee then was actually court-martialed for his behavior related to the attack. The court-martial charges rose from some officers who appeared to have been jealous of Lee's having been given this command of the attack. [11] The court-martial, which consisted of eight charges, was held quickly, and Lee was cleared of all charges. [12]

With that embarrassing incident out of the way, the praise for Lee's actions was overwhelming. In fact, Lee was awarded a gold medal from Congress for his attack on Paulus Hook, along with the sum of fifteen thousand dollars to be distributed among Lee and the other officers and soldiers involved in the attack. [13]

 

Following the Battle, the British retained control of Paulus Hook until the end of the Revolutionary War

Although Lee's attack on the British fort at Paulus Hook had resulted in 158 prisoners and caused some damage, the fort remained in British hands for the rest of the war. In fact, Paulus Hook was one of the last places in America held by the British in the Revolutionary War.

The last major battle of the Revolutionary War ended on October 19, 1781, in Yorktown, Virginia. After Yorktown, fighting did continue, but it took the form of small skirmishes and raids rather than large scale battles. Meanwhile, negotiations between the United States and Britain took place in Paris to settle on terms for peace. The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, officially ending the war. However, due to the slowness of ocean travel in the 1700's, it took until October 31 for the news of the war's end to reach America. [14]

Over the next month, British forces still in the United States began to pull out. British forces left Paulus Hook on November 22, 1783. [15] Three days later, the British evacuated New York City, ending their military presence in the United States.

 

"Light-Horse Harry" Lee after the Revolutionary War

"Light-Horse Harry" Lee, who had led the successful attack at Paulus Hook in 1779, returned to his native Virginia after the war and began a successful political career. He was elected governor of Virginia and later to the House of Representatives. He was also called back to military service when he commanded the troops during the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794 under the Presidency of George Washington.

When George Washington died in 1799, Lee wrote a funeral oration which contained a phrase describing Washington which has become famous, "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." [16]

"Light-Horse Harry" Lee died on March 25, 1818, at the age of sixty-two. His son Robert E. Lee, who had been born in 1807, is known to history as the commanding Confederate general of the Civil War.

Jersey City NJ Historic Sites
VAN WAGENEN HOUSE
Also known as the "APPLE TREE HOUSE

Van Wagenen House
Apple Tree House
Van Wagenen House
298 Academy St.
Map / Directions to the Van Wagenen House
Currently closed for restoration

Source Notes:

1. ^ "Plan of the City of New York in North America, Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767,"  Map drawn by Bernard Ratzer
An image of this map can be viewed on the Green Street Project website here
 ▸ Paulus Hook appears in the top left of this map of New York City which was drawn several years before the beginning of the Revolutionary War. It clearly shows Paulus Hook surrounded by salt marshes (labeled "Salt Meadows" on the map).

2. ^ For more information and accompanying source notes about the overall events surrounding this time, see the Fort Lee page of this website.

3. ^ The flying camp existed from June until December 1776, and mainly defended spots along the coast of New Jersey.

• The recommendation to the Continental Congress to form the Flying Camp and their June 3, 1776 approval are recorded in:
Journals of the Continental Congress, Volume IV (Washington D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1906) Pages 399 and 412 - 413
Available to be read at the Library of Congress website here

• The following letter to Washington from Mercer was written while Mercer was at Paulus Hook:
“To George Washington from Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, 15 August 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-06-02-0027. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 6, 13 August 1776 – 20 October 1776, ed. Philander D. Chase and Frank E. Grizzard, Jr. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, p. 32.]

• Mercer mentions sending some of the Flying Camp to Paulus Hook in this letter:
“To George Washington from Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, 17 September 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-06-02-0260. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 6, 13 August 1776 – 20 October 1776, ed. Philander D. Chase and Frank E. Grizzard, Jr. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 327–328.]

4. ^ The following contemporary accounts mention firing between Paulus Hook and British ships during this period:

• "The Ships of War in the North-River....,"New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, August 5, 1776, reprinted in:
William S. Stryker, editor, Archives of the State of New Jersey, Second Series, Vol. I (Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey) (Trenton: John L. Murphy Publishing Company, 1901) Page 160
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here

• "By some accounts from Powles Hook...," Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, September 12, 1776, reprinted in:
William S. Stryker, editor, Archives of the State of New Jersey, Second Series, Vol. I (Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey) (Trenton: John L. Murphy Publishing Company, 1901) Pages 185-186
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here

• "Sunday the 15th, the Asia, and two other ships of war...," Pennsylvania Evening Post, October 1, 1776, reprinted in:
William S. Stryker, editor, Archives of the State of New Jersey, Second Series, Vol. I (Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey) (Trenton: John L. Murphy Publishing Company, 1901) Page 199
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here

• Extract from the Journal of Col. Durkee's Chaplain, The Pennsylvania Evening Post, November 19, 1776, reprinted in:
William S. Stryker, editor, Archives of the State of New Jersey, Second Series, Vol. I (Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey) (Trenton: John L. Murphy Publishing Company, 1901) Page 224-229
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here

5. ^ The failed invasion attempt of September 22, the evacuation of September 23, and the arrival of the British are recorded in the following contemporary documents:

• "Sunday last a number of the regulars...," The Pennsylvania Evening Post, October 8, 1776, reprinted in:
William S. Stryker, editor, Archives of the State of New Jersey, Second Series, Vol. I (Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey) (Trenton: John L. Murphy Publishing Company, 1901) Page 204
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here

• Extract from the journal of Col. Durkee's Chaplain, The Pennsylvania Evening Post, November 19, 1776, reprinted in:
William S. Stryker, editor, Archives of the State of New Jersey, Second Series, Vol. I (Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey) (Trenton: John L. Murphy Publishing Company, 1901) Page 228-229
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here

• “To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 23 September 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-06-02-0293. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 6, 13 August 1776 – 20 October 1776, ed. Philander D. Chase and Frank E. Grizzard, Jr. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, pp. 376–377.]

6. ^ For a detailed description of the British fort at Paulus Hook, see:
George H Farrier, Memorial of the Centennial Celebration of the Battle of Paulus Hook, August 19th, 1879: With a History of the Early Settlement and Present Condition of Jersey City, N.J. (Jersey City: M. Mullone, Printer, 1879) Pages 32-35; and Appendix XVI on pages 76-77, which reprints an August 28, 1779, Pennsylvania Packet article with a contemporary description.
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here

7. ^ Several contemporary newspaper articles mentioning American incursions into the areas near Paulus Hook are quoted in:
George H Farrier, Memorial of the Centennial Celebration of the Battle of Paulus Hook, August 19th, 1879: With a History of the Early Settlement and Present Condition of Jersey City, N.J. (Jersey City: M. Mullone, Printer, 1879) Pages 30-32
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here

8. ^ Major Lee's own detailed account of the Battle of Paulus Hook, including the quote about his not burning the fort, can be found in the report he sent to General Washington three days later. It is available to be read at the Founders Online, National Archives website:

“To George Washington from Major Henry Lee, Jr., 22 August 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-22-02-0174. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 22, 1 August–21 October 1779, ed. Benjamin L. Huggins. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, pp. 210–224.]


The 158 prisoners were recorded in:

"Return of Prisoners taken at Powles Hook...," reprinted in:
William Nelson, Editor, Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey, Second Series, Vol. III (Trenton: John L. Murphy Publishing Company, 1906) Pages 629 
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here


Many other contemporary documents related to the Battle of Paulus Hook are reprinted in the Appendix of the following book:

George H Farrier, Memorial of the Centennial Celebration of the Battle of Paulus Hook, August 19th, 1879: With a History of the Early Settlement and Present Condition of Jersey City, N.J. (Jersey City: M. Mullone, Printer, 1879) Pages 59-92
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here

9. ^ “General Orders, 22 August 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-22-02-0170. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 22, 1 August–21 October 1779, ed. Benjamin L. Huggins. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, pp. 207–208.]

10. ^ “From George Washington to John Jay, 23 August 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-22-02-0181. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 22, 1 August–21 October 1779, ed. Benjamin L. Huggins. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, pp. 230–231.]
 ▸ Note that John Jay was serving as the president of the Continental Congress at the time this letter was sent, which is why the letter to the Continental Congress is addressed to him.

11. ^ These two letters written by George Washington concern the issues raised by Virginia officers regarding Lee's command of the attack on Paulus Hook:

• “From George Washington to Major General Stirling, 28 August 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-22-02-0221. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 22, 1 August–21 October 1779, ed. Benjamin L. Huggins. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, pp. 280–284.]

• “From George Washington to Brigadier Generals William Woodford and Peter Muhlenberg, 28 August 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-22-02-0225. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 22, 1 August–21 October 1779, ed. Benjamin L. Huggins. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, pp. 286–287.]

12. ^ “General Orders, 11 September 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-22-02-0321. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 22, 1 August–21 October 1779, ed. Benjamin L. Huggins. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013, pp. 396–398.]

13. ^ Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Volume XV (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1909) Pages 1099-1102
Available to be read at Google Books here

 ▸ In 1973, the United States Mint issued pewter reproductions of the medal awarded to Major Lee, as part of their America's First Medals series. Articles about this series, including images of the reproduction of Lee's medal, can be found on the following coin collector websites: NumisSociety and Coin Talk.

14. ^ On October 31, 1783 when word of the signing of the treaty ending the war reached America, both General George Washington and the Continental Congress were in New Jersey to receive the news. For more information, see the Rockingham Historic Site  entry on the Kingston page, and the Princeton University / Nassau Hall entry on the Princeton page.

15. ^ “To George Washington from Guy Carleton, 19 November 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-12084. [This is an Early Access document from The Papers of George Washington. It is not an authoritative final version.]

16. ^ Hillary Hughes, “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen,” The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington, accessed October 26, 2016, http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/first-in-war-first-in-peace-and-first-in-the-hearts-of-his-countrymen/.

 ▸ A transcript of Lee's Funeral Oration on the Death of General Washington is available as a PDF at the National Library of Medicine website here

Website Researched, Written, Photographed and Designed by Al Frazza
This website, its text and photographs are © 2009 -2016 Al Frazza. All rights reserved.