The Closter Horseman
Journeys into Closter
Closter is a place of history - of times recent and times centuries ago.
At the corner of Closter Dock and Piermont Roads is a plaque that speaks of an event turned legend from the time of the American Revolution.
On a cold November morning in 1776, as the legend goes, a Closter farmer spied Lord Cornwallis landing at Closter Dock with 4,000 British and Hessian troops. A Lone Horseman warned General Nathaniel Greene at Fort Lee that the British were coming though unlike another similar event in Massachusetts we do not know if those word were actually used. Nonetheless, it is clear that the warning provided the Continental Army time to evacuate and join the rest of Washington's army in Hackensack.
The plaque referring to what historians and locals call the Paul Revere of Bergen County is entitled "The Closter Horseman". It was dedicated in 1964 and specifically speaks of a Closterman. It does not specifically mention what language was used so we do not have a "British Are Coming" phrase to embrace as was the case in the Massachusetts event.
There even seems to be some historian types who have tried to argue that while there was a horseman he might not have been from Closter . In an item submitted in 2013 to the Histircal Marker Data Base by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington refrence was made to "The Closter Horseman Controversy". According to Coughlin, "research conducted by Todd Braisted, former president of the Bergen County Historical Society, put some doubt on whether the horseman who warned Washington was actually from Closter. According to pension records he reviewed in the National Archives, the person on duty the morning of November 20, 1776 was John Clifford of Hunterdon County. It may well have been Clifford who carried the news of the approaching British troops to Fort Lee".
No matter the place of origin of the rider, the ride itself is in little dispute. The event is recalled these days not just on the monument plaque on Closter Dock Road, but also on the borough seal.
There all exists a painting of the event, created decades ago by local chiropractr and painter John Pagano which hangs at the borough hall.
According to an old newspaper article from The Record, Pagano spent three years researching and working on the painting. He studied the Revolutionary era with historians to ensure accuracy in his work. The painting, which was unveiled in 1980, and has also been displayed in the Fort Lee Historic Park Museum.
Pagano, an Englewood Cliffs resident, studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York after he returned from serving in the Navy in the Korean War. According to the article, even when he grew busy as a professional chiropractor, Pagano continued painting on the side, a true labor of love for his community.