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The Revolutionary War in Bergen County:
The Times that Tried Men’s Souls

Edited by Carol Karels • History Press, Charleston, SC • ISBN: 978-1-59629-358-8• Format: 192 pages • Price:  $22.99• Release date: October 2007

Flanked by the Hudson River to the east and the Hudson Highlands to the west, Bergen County, New Jersey was one of the most vital theaters of the Revolutionary War. If the British could control it, they could drive a fateful wedge between New England and the other colonies.

In The Revolutionary War in Bergen County, Carol Karels and her team of historians weave a masterful account of the struggle in northeastern New Jersey from the perspectives of all involved. Here was where Thomas Paine conceived the first of his Crisis papers beginning with the words "These Are The Times That Try Men's Souls". Here also, future antagonists Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were baptized by fire; and families--in a foreshadowing of the Civil War--split bitterly along Loyalist and Patriot lines.  From Washington's desperate November 1776 retreat to the Delaware to the Continental army's epic August 1781 march to destiny at Yorktown, The Revolutionary War in Bergen County examines one of the Revolutionary War's most dramatic and pivotal fronts.

Contributors: Leonia historian Carol Karels conceived of the project, sought out the contributors, and served as editor and coordinator. The contributors include Arthur Aranda, Dr. Henry Bischoff, Todd Braisted, Arnold Brown, Joan Dater, Carol Greene, Robert Griffin, Carol Karels, Steve Kelman, Marvin Kitman, Barbara Marchant, Tom Meyers, Ed Moderacki, John U. Rees, Donald Londahl-Smidt, John Spring, Kevin Tremble, and Kevin Wright. To see Bios.

Cover Art: The cover art is a recently restored H. Willard Ortlip painting entitled “George Washington On the Palisades.” Ortlip was a well-known Fort Lee painter in the early twentieth century. His son Paul Ortlip restored the painting in 2003. The painting was photographed by Donna Brennan of Fort Lee. It hangs on the second floor of the Fort Lee Borough Hall.

 Topics Covered: The essays are arranged in chronological order and the book includes a table of contents, over sixty photos, a timeline, a comprehensive list of references and an index. They profile intriguing people (George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, Thomas Paine, Theodosia Prevost, British Major John Andre, Charles Lee, Comte de Rochambeau, Thomas Ward, the Black Loyalists, militiaman Daniel Vansciver), historic events (The November 1776 Invasion of New Jersey and Retreat, Baylor Massacre, Grand Forage, the W3R March to Victory, the Hard Winter, Evacuation of Loyalists) and places (Fort Lee, Steuben House at New Bridge Landing, the Hermitage in Ho Ho Kus, Bull’s Ferry Blockhouse).

Source of Information in Book: Much of the information in this new book comes from primary sources—letters, diaries, pension records, muster rolls, ship logs of former slaves departing for Nova Scotia, bills of sale, military after-action reports and George Washington’s handwritten expense reports. Some essays were written expressly for this book; others were adapted or excerpted from previous work. All focus on events or people who spent time in or around Bergen County during the Revolutionary War. Most of the essays were written for, or adapted for this book; a few had previously appeared in the Bergen County Historical Society’s Annuals and were reprinted with their permission.

 Perspective: The book examines the events from the perspective of all who were involved—the military commanders on both sides, the foreign volunteers, the patriots and loyalists, the militiamen and the New Jersey Volunteers, the Jersey Dutch farmers, the women left alone to defend their homes, blacks both free and enslaved, the British and Hessian troops, the opportunistic London traders and the lawless plunderers.

Time Period: It begins in June 1776, when thirty thousand British and Hessian troops arrived in New York Harbor and ends in April 1781, after the decisive Battle of Yorktown. In the years between, British, Hessian and Continental troops helped themselves to Bergen County farmers’ crops to feed their hungry troops. Troops from both sides cut down trees and fences for fuel and warmth. They pillaged and plundered homes. Residents lived in constant fear of being ambushed, having their property seized, their houses burned down, their fields stripped and their men hauled off to prison for their political beliefs. Although it was known as “the neutral ground” because it was located between the American troops in the New Jersey Highlands and the British troops in Manhattan, few in Bergen County were politically neutral. Families, neighborhoods and churches were divided over loyalty to the king or to the United States, leading to lifelong animosity.

Timeliness of Release Date: The book’s November 2007 release is timely in that it corresponds with the anniversary of the Retreat to Victory (November 20, 1776). Also noteworthy is that New Jersey was designated a Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area in 2006. In September 2007, Preservation New Jersey bestowed their Sarah Fiske History Award to the Crossroads organization. Kevin Tremble, Crossroads’ president, wrote the Foreword to the book.

Events where the book is available: The BCHS will have it available at the monthly lecture programs and Rev War Roundtable talks. The Fort Lee Retreat Weekend will be commemorated on November 17 and 18 by the Brigade of the American Revolution at Fort Lee Historic Park. The Fort Lee Museum will be hosting a “Wine and Sign” reception on November 17 at 7 p.m. Also in November, the Common Sense Society of Fort Lee kicks off their campaign to raise funds to erect a statue of Thomas Paine in Fort Lee’s Monument Park for that park’s centennial in 2008. Proceeds from the sale of the book, at that event, will go toward that statue.

Availability: The book will be available in retail stores in early November. It can also be purchased directly from the Bergen County Historical Society, Friends of the Hermitage, Fort Lee Museum, Fort Lee Historic Park, the Blackledge Kearny House and the Mahwah Museum. Royalties from the sale of the book in retail stores will go to the Bergen County Historical Society. Several Bergen County libraries have also scheduled lectures and book signings. Leonia Library is November 10 at 3 p.m. Fort Lee Public Library is November 17 at 2 p.m.

The editor, Carol Karels, holds a bachelor’s degree in history and is the official historian of the Borough of Leonia. She assembled a group of eighteen Revolutionary-era historians—various of whom have served as presidents of Bergen County-area historical societies, historical reenactors, tour leaders, and museum curators—to produce this book. Karels, who currently works as a self-publishing consultant, has written several books, including Images of America: Leonia and Cooked: An Inner City Nursing Memoir. Email: Phone: 201-592-6545

The History Press, based in Charleston, South Carolina and Salem, Massachusetts, brings a new way of thinking to history publishing by producing regional history titles by excellent historians and striving to make these books available to a wide audience.