The year 1776 was a tumultuous one for the American cause in the Revolutionary War. July 4 had seen the milestone of adopting the Declaration of Independence. But on the military side, the war had gone poorly for General George Washington and the Continental (American) Army. They suffered a series of defeats on Long Island and Manhattan between August and September. Then on November 19-20, British troops invaded New Jersey by crossing the Hudson River from New York and landing at Lower Closter Landing in Bergen County. This forced the Continental Army to evacuate their camp at nearby Fort Lee and begin a twelve-day retreat across New Jersey, with the British forces in pursuit behind them. 
Their retreat took them first through Bergen County to the Passaic River. They crossed the Passaic River into Passaic, and then marched along the river through what are now Clifton and Nutley.
On November 22, they arrived in what is now Belleville, but was then known as Second River. Two Retreat Route 1776 signs on Main Street commemorate this. One sign is in front of the Dutch Reformed Church (second photo). The other is across the street along the Passaic River near the bridge (third photo).
After Second River, they continued their retreat and entered Newark, where they remained until November 28. From Newark, they continued their retreat southwest across the state through New Brunswick and Princeton. They arrived in Trenton on December 2, where they spent five days moving all the troops and supplies across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.
However, within weeks Washington and his army would turn the tide. On Christmas night, Washington's forces crossed the Delaware River back into New Jersey to win a small but important victory the next morning at Trenton, followed eight days later with another victory at Princeton. Having revived their chances and morale, Washington's army headed to Morristown where they spent the winter.  New Jersey had played a pivotal role during this period, as it would throughout the rest of the Revolutionary War.
Note: In Bergen County, there is a much larger series of Retreat Route 1776 signs which trace the first part of the retreat, from Fort Lee to the Passaic River in Wallington. Click here for information about the Bergen County signs.
BELLEVILLE DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH AND CEMETERY
(also known as the Reformed Dutch Church of Second River)
Belleville Reformed Church and Cemetery
171 Main St.
Map / Directions to the Belleville Reformed Church
Map / Directions to all Belleville Revolutionary War Sites
The building is currently used as a church by Iglasenda Antigua
When the Continental Army passed through Second River during their 1776 retreat, they marched by the Reformed Dutch Church of Second River. Throughout the war, the bell tower served as a lookout and alarm for local militia. The church also played a role in the Battle of Second River on September 12-14, 1777, which is described in detail in the Battle of Second River Monument entry lower on this page.
A tunnel is believed to have existed from underneath the church to the other side of the Passaic River. It was likely created circa 1715, sixty years before the Revolutionary War, as part of the mining industry which then thrived in the area. During the war, it may have been used for the purpose of secretly moving militiamen to the other side of the river. 
The church building which stood here during the Revolutionary War was ruined by a tornado in 1804 and rebuilt in 1807. The church was rebuilt once again in 1853, which is the current structure. 
Sixty-eight Revolutionary War soldiers are known to be buried in the church cemetery. A monument with a bust of George Washington lists their names. 
Pvt. Hermanus Brown
John H. Cadmus
John P. Cadmus
Lt. Col. Thomas Cadmus
Capt. Amos Dodd
Capt. Henry Joralemon
Lt. Capt. James Joralemon
Capt. John Kidney
Ensign John Peer
Capt. Anthony Rutgers
Capt. Thomas Seigler
Capt. Abraham Speer
Capt. Cornelius Speer
Capt. Henry Speer
Lt. Herman Speer
Lt. John Spier, Jr.
Col. Philip Van Cortlandt
Capt. Steven Van Cortlandt
Thomas Van Riper
Simeon Van Winkle
Capt. Ezekial Wade
Many of these soldiers' last names, such as Hornblower, Joralemon, Kingsland, Rutgers, Rutan, Cadmus, Dodd, Vreeland, and Speer, are familiar to local residents because they are now names of streets in Belleville and Nutley. The four soldiers named Rutgers were related to Colonel Henry Rutgers, a Revolutionary War officer for whom Rutgers University was named.
Battle of Second River Monument
Inside Branch Brook Park, where Mill St. intersects with Branch Brook Park Dr.
Map / Directions to the Battle of Second River Monument
Map / Directions to all Belleville Revolutionary War Sites
Battle of Second River 
In September 1777, British troops under General Henry Clinton made a four-pronged incursion into North Jersey. Four groups of British soldiers crossed over the Hudson River from British-occupied New York and landed at different locations: at New Barbadoes Neck (present-day North Arlington and Kearny), Elizabeth, Fort Lee, and Tappan.
One of General Clinton's intentions was to steal cattle from the area, both to feed British troops and to keep them from being used as food by Americans.
General Clinton himself was with the troops that landed at New Barbadoes Neck. On the morning of September 12, 1777, General Clinton and about 600 British troops marched down what is now Belleville Turnpike, and was then known as Schuyler's Road. Clinton made his headquarters at the Schuyler Mansion, which was located near the present-day intersection of the Belleville Turnpike and Pleasant Ave, at the North Arlington/Kearny Border. From this location, which overlooked the village of Second River across the Passaic River, the British opened fire from two cannons into the center of the village.
At the Dutch Reformed Church (see entry above) an alarm was sounded to alert the local militiamen of the Second Essex Regiment, who formed a defensive line in front of the church, along with the village's one cannon.
By noon, Union and Morris County militia arrived to aid the Essex County militiamen in their defense of Second River. They brought a cannon with them, so they now had two cannons. More reinforcements arrived soon, under the command of General William Winds, who brought with them a third cannon. One of their cannon shots smashed through a window of Clinton's headquarters, damaging a bookcase inside the house.
Having been fortified with these additional men and cannons, the forces defending Second River now presented a serious obstacle to Clinton's forces crossing the Passaic River. In addition to this, the militia had taken all of the boats in the area to the Second River side. Faced with this situation, General Clinton sent for the British forces who had landed at Elizabeth to march north through Newark and into Second River. When these additional British troops arrived, the Americans were outnumbered by more than three to one, and they pulled back from their position on the Passaic River to present-day Mill St, near where the boulder monument now sits.
On the morning of September 13, the American forces were at that position with their three cannons. When a large group of British forces marched on their position, the Americans withdrew to the hills in the west to an area called Watsessing, which is now Bloomfield. A skirmish occurred at Watsessing which is commemorated with a plaque there.
That evening, as the American forces were at Watsessing, General Clinton was waiting for a squadron of British cavalry he had called for to join in the fighting. His plan was to use the cavalry in cooperation with his infantry to surround the Americans. However, Clinton received intelligence that evening which caused him to change his plans and head his forces to Bergen County to deal with another situation.
On the following morning, Clinton's troops began marching out of the area, and the Battle of Second River was over.
Two Americans were killed in the Battle of Second River. British casualties were higher; they suffered eight men killed, eighteen enlisted men and one officer wounded, ten missing, and five taken prisoner.
NOTE: The village of Second River shared its name with an actual river flowing through the area into the Passaic River.
The river called "Second River" still flows into the Passaic River. Part of it runs through Branch Brook park, passing by less than a hundred feet from the boulder monument.
Branch Brook Park
The Battle of Second River monument is located within Branch Brook Park, which was created in the 1890's.  The park's most distinctive feature is its thousands of flowering cherry trees, which the Branch Brook Park Alliance describes as "the largest and most varied collection of flowering cherry trees in one naturalistic landscape setting anywhere in the world." 
If you visit the park in early spring, you can see these beautiful trees in blossom. Each April, the park has a Cherry Blossom Festival, consisting of events over several weeks. For more information about Branch Brook Park and its cherry blossoms, visit the website of the Branch Brook Park Alliance.
Even though the Cherry Blossoms have no connection to the Revolutionary War, several photos of the trees in the park are included below, simply because the trees are so beautiful.
THE BIRTH OF BELLEVILLE - JULY 4, 1797 
As noted above, this area was known as Second River at the time of the Revolutionary War. The changing of the name to Belleville occurred on July 4, 1797, the twenty-first anniversary of American Independence. The renaming was part of a series of events that day in celebration of Independence Day.
The festivities began that morning at the Dutch Reformed Church, where a prayer was read by the church's reverend, Peter Stryker, and the Declaration of Independence was read aloud. Later, a dinner was held at the house of a local man named John Ryerson, where many toasts were drunk, including ones to George Washington and to then-president John Adams.
A vote was then taken by the village committee, who voted unanimously to rename the town Belleville. Revolutionary War veteran Col. Philip Van Cortlandt was president of the village committee, and he presided over the vote. Van Cortlandt is one of the Revolutionary War Veterans buried at the Dutch Church cemetery. (See Dutch Church and Cemetery entry above on this page.)
2. ^There is some uncertainty as to whether the Continental Army marched from Second River into Newark on the evening of November 22 or on the morning of November 23.
However, General George Washington's letters of this period firmly establish their presence in Newark from November 23-28, 1776:
• Washington's letters from November 23-27, 1776 are marked as having been sent from Newark, which Washington spells as "New Ark."
Some of these letters are available to be read at the Founders Online / National Archives website here.
• There are no Washington letters available dated November 28, the day he left Newark. However, his letters from November 29 are marked as being sent from New Brunswick.
These letters are available to be read at the Founders Online / National Archives website here
• In a letter he wrote on November 30 to John Hancock, Washington states directly that it was on November 28 that the army left Newark. He wrote, "On Thursday morning I left New Ark and arrived here Yesterday with the Troops that were there."
November 28, 1776 was a Thursday.
“From George Washington to John Hancock, 30 November 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-07-02-0168 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 7, 21 October 1776–5 January 1777, ed. Philander D. Chase. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997, pp. 232–234.
3. ^ "These are the times that try men's souls" is the opening sentence of Thomas Paine's The Crisis. (Also known as The American Crisis.)
Paine was with the Continental Army during the 1776 retreat across New Jersey; he is believed to have begun writing The Crisis during the retreat while the Continental Army was at Newark, after passing through Second River.
▸ For more information about Thomas Paine, including the topic of whether he began writing The Crisis while at Newark, see the Thomas Paine Monument entry on the Morristown page and the accompanying Morristown Source Note #34.
5. ^ Tunnel information is based on the research and conclusions of Mike Perrone, the President of the Belleville Historical Society. Mike believes that there were also two more tunnels near what is now the Belleville/Newark border.
Mike shared his thoughts with me about the tunnels in an email correspondence during June 2016.
National Register of Historic Places / Inventory - Nomination Form for the Reformed Dutch Church of Second River
Available as a PDF on the National Park Service website here
• Congressman Bill Pascrell noted the 300th Anniversary of the church into the Congressional Record of the House of Representatives on March 10, 1997
(Congressional Record 105th Congress (1997-1998), page E419. March 10, 1997)
Available to be read in a PDF at the U.S. Government Publishing Office website here
7. ^ Sixty-six names are listed on the plaques on the monument in the cemetery.
Two more, Philip Van Cortlandt and Hermanus Brown, have been discovered since the plaques were placed.
8. ^ The main contemporary source of information about the Battle of Second River is a letter written by General Clinton to General William Howe on September 23, 1777. Although Clinton does not refer to Second River by name, he provides information about his four-pronged incursion into New Jersey at this time. He also provides a basic timeline of what happened from September 12-14.
The letter is reprinted in:
Francis B. Lee, Archives of the State of New Jersey, Second Series, Vol II (Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey / Extracts from American Newspapers relating to New Jersey) (Trenton: John L. Murphy Publishing Company, 1903) Pages 42-43
Available to be read at the Internet Archive here
• Some additional information was provided to me by Mike Perrone, the President of the Belleville Historical Society. Mike shared with me his thoughts on the battle, based on his own research, in an email correspondence in June 2016.
• The following contemporary sources were also consulted in writing this account of the Battle of Second River:
~ Jemima Condict, Jemima Condict, Her Book: Being a Transcript of the Diary of an Essex County Maid During the Revolutionary War (Newark, N.J., The Carteret Book Club, 1930) Pages 66-67
▸ For the full text of this source, see the Captain Thomas Williams' Company Plaque entry on the Bloomfield page of this website
~"Record of Stephen Ogden," Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, Volume 2 (New Jersey Historical Society, 1917) Pages 110-113
Available to be read at Google Books here
~ The following letters to and from General George Washington in September, 1777.
Note that some of the information in these sources does not directly describe the events within Second River, but they are helpful in putting it into the larger context of the events of September 12-14, 1777.
◊ “To George Washington from John Hancock, 14 September 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-11-02-0217 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 11, 19 August 1777 – 25 October 1777, ed. Philander D. Chase and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001, pp. 225–226.
▸ Includes a letter sent to Congress by Major General Philemon Dickinson on September 13, 1777
◊ “To George Washington from Colonel William Malcom, 13 September 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-11-02-0206 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 11, 19 August 1777 – 25 October 1777, ed. Philander D. Chase and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001, pp. 216–217.
◊ “From George Washington to Major General Philemon Dickinson, 14 September 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-11-02-0216 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 11, 19 August 1777 – 25 October 1777, ed. Philander D. Chase and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001, p. 225.
◊ “From George Washington to Major General Israel Putnam, 14 September 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-11-02-0225 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 11, 19 August 1777 – 25 October 1777, ed. Philander D. Chase and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001, pp. 230–231.
◊ “To Brigadier General Alexander McDougall or the Officer Commanding the Detachment Marching from Peekskill, 14 September 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-11-02-0222 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 11, 19 August 1777 – 25 October 1777, ed. Philander D. Chase and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001, pp. 228–229.
◊ “To George Washington from Major General Philemon Dickinson, 15 September 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-11-02-0229 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 11, 19 August 1777 – 25 October 1777, ed. Philander D. Chase and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001, pp. 234–235.
◊ “To George Washington from Major General Philemon Dickinson, 16 September 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-11-02-0237 [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 11, 19 August 1777 – 25 October 1777, ed. Philander D. Chase and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001, pp. 246–247.
11. ^ Information drawn from an article which appeared in The Centinel of Freedom newspaper on July 12, 1797, eight days after the event. The Centinel of Freedom was a Newark newspaper.
An image of the original newspaper article is available on the Belleville Township website here
I would like to thank Mike Perrone, the President of the Belleville Historical Society.
Mike took the time to correspond with me during my research for this Belleville page and answered many questions for me.
He also provided me with copies of a number of documents which I was otherwise unable to acquire.