Colonel Philip Van Cortlandt added to roster of American Revolution veterans buried in Belleville Dutch Reformed Church Cemetery

By Michael Perrone

The Belleville Historical Society added a 68th Revolutionary War soldier to the long roster of 1776 patriots interred at the old Belleville Dutch Reformed Church.

Crumbling crypt of Col. Philip Van Cortlandt in the cemetery of the old Belleville Dutch Reformed ChurchA review of original documents housed in the archives of the New York City Public Library on 5th Avenue confirmed that Col. Philip Van Cortlandt, commanding officer of the Second Essex County Regiment, was a lifelong resident of Belleville.

While an old Belleville Historical Society sign in the cemetery claimed that Van Cortlandt was buried here, there was no documentation or evidence of any kind to support the claim. In fact, research conducted by the society since 2002 showed the colonel being buried at the Cortlandt Manor in New York state.

The big break in the mystery came last year when the society found the original newspaper article at the Newark Library on the naming of Belleville.

The colonial Newark weekly newspaper, the Sentinel of Freedom, reported that the village of Second River voted to change the name of the community to Belleville on July 4 in 1792.

The last sentence in the news article stated that the July 4 festivities and the voting were presided over by the president of the village committee, Col. Philip Van Cortlandt.

Upon seeing this news the society realized that it needed to reopen the research on the issue, and after a persistent, lengthy and more exhaustive search, found that original volumes of Van Cortlandt’s notes were in the New York City Library collection. I spent last Saturday in the library's rare book room perusing through Van Cortlandt's writings.

Van Cortlandt was one of New Jersey's most prominent citizens. In addition to being a large landowner with an extensive farming enterprise, he owned ships and wagons that transported merchandise throughout the region. He also owned the large quarry on Mill Street, which provided the brownstone for numerous structures in New Jersey, New York and elsewhere. The brownstone from his Belleville quarry was used to build Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor.

During the Revolutionary War, Van Cortlandt led the Essex troops that along with George Washington's rear guard exchanged fire on two occasions with the British while Washington was camped in Newark in November of 1776.

Later that year Van Cortlandt and units of the Essex Regiment would cross the Delaware with Washington at the Battle of Trenton. Van Cortlandt and the Second Essex Regiment fought at the Battles of Long Island, Monmouth, Connecticut Farms, and in September of 1777 Van Cortland and Gen. William Winds led the American forces when the British and Hessians attacked Belleville, during the three days of fighting at the Battle of Second River.

Van Cortlandt died in 1803 and is entombed in the Van Cortlandt crypt. The brownstone crypt took a heavy toll after last year's winter storm. The Belleville Historical Society is accepting donations for repairs to the crypt and other monuments and also for our July Fourth morning ceremony. For more information, visit bellevillehistory.org or call Michael Perrone at 973-780-7852.

Michael Perrone is president of the Belleville Historical Society. Reprinted by permission June 2016.


Burial: Belleville Dutch Reformed Churchyard
Belleville, Essex County, New Jersey, USA
Plot: Van Cortlandt Crypt

The long-lived officer's name was inadvertently omitted from the church plaque honoring the Revolutionary War veterans interred in Belleville's Dutch Reformed Church cememter due to confusion with a similarly named and ranked cousin who served in New York at the Battle of Saratoga.

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Belleville and Nutley were the village of Second River, that is, the village included all the land between the Second and Third rivers, or roughly from present day Mill Street in Belleville to Kingsland Road at the Nutley-Clifton border.


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