American Revolution: Battle of Belleville, New Jersey

The Skirmish at Second River

(Belleville), September 1777

The old Belleville Dutch Reformed Church cemetery is on the west side of the Iglesia Pentecostal La Senda Antigua, 171 Main St., at the corner of Main and Rutgers streets. The cemetery is located along General George Washington's retreat route, and which left behind a contingent of local militia who in a two-day battle delayed British troops as Washington's men retreated.

Battle memorial in Belleville Park on Mill Street.

The second day battle is marked by a memorial in what is now Belleville Park along Mill Street, site of the only battle fought in Essex County during the American Revolution.

In September 1777 there was an engagement which is most frequently referred to as the “Battle of Second River”. It is for this engagement that a memorial plaque has been erected in the park. The British intended to expand their invasion with a larger force in central Jersey. But first, they had to pass through Second River and beneath the old church tower.

Eyes in the tower saw the advance and sounded the alarm. Under the direction of Captains Hornblower, Joralemon, Rutgers and Rutan, a defense was prepared. Skirmishes went on for two days. It began with an artillery barrage of our town followed by musket and cannon battles in the streets.

Sending for reinforcements, the American troops valiantly held their ground and managed to damage British General. Sir Henry Clinton’s hilltop headquarters with a direct hit from a cannonball, which happened to be on what is now Franklin Ave. September 14th turned into an all-day pitched battle.

With patriot reinforcements pouring in from neighboring communities, front lines eventually took shape near to Mill Street and Union Avenue. The British forces, overwhelming in numbers, eventually broke through. But once again, the local militia had succeeded in delaying the advance and weakening the invading army.

A skirmish was recorded on Jan. 27, 1777, between British foraging party and large body of rebels, according to Battles and Skirmishes in New Jersey.  That source says that on June 1, 1779, the militia captured a Tory named Lawrence as he enlists men for the British Army.

A large boulder also rests at the fork in the road between Union and Franklin Avenues on Mill Street as a landmark to mark the spot where the final shots of the Battle of the Second River were fired. A bronze plaque was placed on the rock in 1932.

Sources: Norman Price, Village of Second River author; Michael Perrone, Dave Hinrichs, The Belleville Times. David C. Munn, Battles and Skirmishes of the American Revolution in New Jersey, Belleville Sons Honor Roll.

News Article

"Schuyler Mansion played a role during the Revolutionary War Era. When Lord Howe of England took possession of New York Harbor, the nearness of Schuyler Mansion drew many of his officers. They generally traveled over a road that today is referred to as the Belleville Turnpike. It was originally made of cedar logs from the nearby swamps in 1759.

"During September 1777, General Henry Clinton, head of the British Expeditionary Forces in America, selected Schuyler Mansion for his headquarters during one of his more important raiding operations which included the famed Battle of Second River. The Mansion stood until 1924, a period of 214 years, when it was torn down by a land development company."

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Approximate site of militia cannon.

A cannon on the Belleville side of the Passaic River held back British troops during Washington's retreat in September 1777. A cannon shot is credited with landing in the Schuyler mansion across the river and up the hill in Kearny.

Canon Memorial Proposed Site, Belleville, NJ photo by Anthony Buccino

American Revolution battle proposed memorial site.

The Belleville Historical Society is developing plans to erect a memorial on the riverbank to commemorate the Second River defenses located here to hold back British troops during Washington's Retreat.

Belleville Sons Honor Roll

  A Place of Honor and Remembrance In the Home of the Brave

Belleville, New Jersey

American Revolution


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