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Story of John Champe
Appendix
Published By
The Historical Society of Hudson County, NJ

By DANIEL VAN WINKLE

Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

The "Three Pigeons" was a noted hostelry in early Revolutionary days. It was located in North Bergen, on the western slope of the heights, near the present junction of "Church Lane" with the "Hackensack Plank Road." Even in the early half of the nineteenth century, it was designated as one of the alternate polling places for the inhabitants of "Old Bergen Township." In order to equalize the hardships (so to speak) to which the people were subjected so that they might exercise the then valued right of franchise, the polling place was alternated on succeeding days between the northern and southern parts of the county. It was likewise on the main route of travel north and south, and it was at this point that John Champe's pursuers first sighted him as they ascended the hill now known as "Kelly's Hill." At the same time Champe, who was ever watchful, descried his pursuers and, spurring his horse, continued his rapid flight down the main road. Mid- dleton surmising that it was Champe's purpose to gain the British post at Paulus Hook, divided his force, directing a portion to "take the short route through the woods to the bridge and there secret his force and intercept Champe on his arrival." Meanwhile, Middleton himself, with the remainder of his force, would continue along the main road, reaching likewise the bridge by that route. The short cut to which allusion is here made branched off to the left from the main road a short distance below the "Three Pigeons," and continued in a southeasterly direction through the woods, connected with the old road running along the easterly brow of the hill to present Newark Avenue, and thence through that route to the fort at Paulus Hook. Just below the junction at Newark Avenue at the foot of the hill-its course now marked by the tracks of the West Shore Railroad-the old Mill Creek, a stream of goodly size, wended its way, spanned at that point by a bridge known for a long time as the "Archbridge." It was this route and bridge mentioned "as the short route through the woods to the bridge below Bergen."

Meanwhile, the wily Champe, being familiar with the territory. knew of this route and, expecting it would be followed by his pursuers, determined to reach the British vessels lying at their usual anchorage, passed it by and continued along the main road down through the village of Bergen and followed the old roads as now practically marked by present Summit, Sip and Bergen Avenues. Middleton with his detachment followed as designed, turning off from the main road at the Five Corners and continuing along present Newark Avenue to the bridge, where he expected Champe was being held for his arrival. He was, however, greatly chagrined to find he had been outwitted. Returning and scattering his force through Bergen and vicinity, with instructions to search carefully for traces of Champe's horse and make inquiries of the residents whether a dragoon had been seen passing through. The trail was soon discovered and the pursuit renewed with utmost speed. Meanwhile, Champe was preparing to reach the British vessels now in plain sight. but noting the near approach of his pursuers, abandoning his horse, he plunged down the western slope of the hill, floundered through the morass calling for help, was rescued by a crew sent by the commander of the British vessel and borne thereon, as related.

John Champe was born near Waterford, Loudoun County, Virginia, in 1752. His early life was doubtless passed in the manner peculiar to those early pioneer days. The War Department Records show that he enlisted in 1776, as a private in Captain Henry Lee's (Light Horse Harry's) company of First Light Dragoons and was first mustered for pay in November, 1777; he was appointed Corporal in "Lee's Legion" April 7, 1778; promoted to Sergeant-Major January 1, 1779. At the close of his military career, when honorably discharged by Washington, hewas appointed Sergeant-at-Arms to the Continental Congress, then convened at Trenton, N.J. This return to civil life proved distasteful to him and, re- signing his position, he returned to the place of his birth, becoming a farmer, married Phoebe Barnard, July, 1782. In after years he, with his family, joined in the great westward movement that marked the beginning of the occupation of that vast western territory then lying uninhabited, and settled in Kentucky, near Louis- ville, where his death occurred in 1798. The exact place of his burial has never been ascertained. The mantle of restlessness seems to have fallen upon his descendants, for we find mention of the enlistment of John Champe's son, Nathaniel, in Captain McArthur's regiment at Dayton, Ohio, in 1812. We next find him (Nathaniel) in Detroit, Michigan, and about 1850 the family was located in Onondaga Township, Ingham County, Michigan, where in the Champe family burial plot within the confines of the little rural cemetery, a marble shaft stands bearing the inscription, "John Champe, an officer in the Revolutionary war, died 1798, aged 46," as a memorial-although his remains are in unknown ground.

We have thus followed the career of one of the heroes of the Revolution, of whom probably a very great majority of our citizens are ignorant, and yet of whom Congress deemed worthy to inscribe the following tribute: "Estimating his endeavors as one of the most daring, hazardous and courageous acts of the Revolution."

Part One

Hudson County Facts by Anthony Olszewski
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