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Old Bergen

Chapter XXVII.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

IT was Washington's determination, if possible, to secure possession of the person of Arnold, and in an interview with Major Lee, he said:

I have sent for you in the expectation that you have in your Corps, individuals capable and willing to undertake an indispensable, delicate, and hazardous project. Whoever comes forward upon this occasion, will lay me under great obligations personally, and in behalf of the United States, I will reward him amply. No time is to be lost . . . . The timely delivery of Arnold to me, will possibly put it into my power to restore the amiable and unfortunate Andre to his friends.
A plan was formulated, and Maj. Lee selected John Champe, a young Virginian about twenty-four years of age. It required the utmost urging on the part of Lee to secure his assent to the plan, not because of fear of the danger to which he might be exposed, but because he was deterred " by the ignominy of desertion, and the hypocrisy of enlisting with the enemy." At last his scruples were overcome, and he entered upon the enterprise with all his native enthusiasm.

He was to make a pretended desertion to the enemy at New York, and there he was to enlist into a corps which Arnold was raising, and at a favorable moment in the night was to seize him, gag him, and bring him across the Hudson into Bergen Woods. Sergeant Champe's pretended desertion took place on the night of October 2o. Besides stationary guards, he had to evade patrols of horse and foot, as well as irregular scouting parties, and so was obliged to proceed with great caution. At about eleven o'clock, taking his cloak, valise, and orderly book, he succeeded in mounting his horse and starting out. Shortly after, an alarm was sounded, that a dragoon had evaded the guard and escaped. The matter was reported to Major Lee, through whose instrumentality the affair was to be carried out. He was compelled to order out a pursuing party, under Cornet Middleton, but he contrived so many hindrances, that it was over an hour before the party could get off. The remainder of the incident is described by Major Lee as follows:

Ascending an eminence before he reached the Three Pigeons, some miles on the north of the village of Bergen, as the pursuing party reached its summit, Champe was descried not more than a mile in front.

His intention was to gain the British Post at Paulus Hook, but noticing his pursuers at about the same time they discovered him, and realizing that they would divine his purpose, he changed his route, and determined to seek protection from two British galleys lying a few miles to the west of Bergen. Entering the village, Champe turned to his right, and disguising his change of course, as much as he could by taking the beaten streets, turning as they turned, took the Road toward Elizabethtown Point.

His pursuers coming up shortly after, inquired of the villagers of Bergen, whether a dragoon had been seen that morning, ahead of his party. They were answered in the affirmative, but could learn nothing satisfactory as to the route he tool:. At last his trail was discovered, and followed so rapidly that they soon drew near. He lashed his valise containing his clothes and orderly book, on his shoulders, and draw ing his sword, threw away the scabbard. The delay occasioned by these preparations, brought his pursuers within two or three hundred yards. He then dismounted, and running through the marsh to the river, plunged into it, calling for help. The galleys fired on the pursuing party, and sent a boat to meet Champe, who was taken on board and carried to New York.

Champe in his flight passed through Bergen Woods, and intending to reach the fort at Paulus Hook, directed his course along the easterly brow of the hill, and reached the vicinity of Prior's Mill. Finding himself cut off, he followed a lane leading up to the Mill Road, striking it just south of Academy Street; and continuing along the same, he came to Bergen Avenue at Foye Place; thence passing through Bergen Avenue, down to the neighborhood of present Clendenny Avenue, he took the road to Brown's Ferry, at the Hackensack, in the neighborhood of which he was rescued by the British boats. Champe's successful evasion of his pursuers and reception by the enemy, made it appear as if the plan would be successful. He enlisted in Arnold's corps, and arranged to surprise him at night, in a garden in the rear of his quarters. Champe's intention was to secure Arnold, while he was indulging in his usual evening walk, gag and bind him. By the removal of several pickets from the garden fence, he secured direct access to a boat, lying in wait near by. He was then to be taken across the Hudson and delivered into the hands of the American general. On the appointed night, Lee and three dragoons, with three led horses, were in the woods of Hoboken, waiting to receive the captive, but to their great disappointment no boat approached, and the Major and his companions were obliged to return to the camp.

The failure was afterward explained by the fact that the day preceding the date fixed upon, Arnold moved his quarters to superintend the embarkation of his troops (consisting chiefly of American deserters), among whom was Champe, whose plans were consequently foiled. He was unable to make his escape, and resume his real character for a long time. When he did so, he was amply rewarded by the Commander in Chief; and received the admiration and respect of his companions in arms. The winter of '77 and '78 was of unusual severity, and even among the British army occupying New York City were its rigors felt. Fuel became scarce, and the wooded shores of "Old Bergen" were liberally levied upon. They furnished in great." measure the fuel that was imperatively demanded to prevent suffering from cold. Many of the refugees, and those who were lukewarm, seized upon the opportunity to obtain some of the British gold in exchange for the timber they transported to the city. At Weehawken there was a natural gorge, which can still be seen in part, that afforded easy access to the water. Down its declivity, the logs were rolled to the water, and then towed across the river. There was likewise a similar ravine just above the West Shore ferry, that was used for like purposes. The scouting parties of the Americans discovering this, interfered with the traffic so successfully that the British erected a block-house at the head of the pass, to protect the wood-choppers. This was occupied by a detachment under Col. Cuyler, and was the scene of many conflicts until 1782, when it was abandoned and the garrison transported to Fort Delancy on Bergen Neck. This gorge was likewise taken advantage of by the runaway slaves from Bergen, who crossed to New York City in such numbers that an order was issued by the commander of the forces in the city, to Col. Cuyler, that he must prevent their crossing as they had become "such a burden to the town."

Route of Flight of John Chanmpe


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