Bleu, Blanc et Rouge at Soldier Hill Road
A Journey into Oradell
Many words have been written of the significant role parts of River Edge played in the Revolutionary War. New Bridge Landing, the Van Steuben House are names familiar to us all.
Old Bridge, also to the south in River Edge, played an important role too, because as with New Bridge landing, it provided a crucial link across the Hackensack River.
Just next door in Paramus is where Washington is said to have slept and his troops refreshed themselves at what is now called the Washington Spring in Van Saun Park.
Less publicized is the history of the period that was made in Oradell.
If you’re headed into Oradell from the north on Kinderkamack Road, these days you’ll see two small flags just off the road just as you approach Soldier Hill Road. Both flags carry the colors red, white and blue: one is a French Flag; the other an American flag.
There is a metal marker, originally erected by the Bergen County Historical Society under the sponsorship of the Book and Needle Club of Oradell.
It’s a modest but powerful symbol – one that helps recall the story how during the American Revolutionary War, General Lafayette’s 's division camped in what is now Oradell at Kinderkamack and Soldier Hill Roads.
The legend reads:
“On September 4, 1780 the Continental Army moved into the Hackensack Valley and west into camp along the ridge just to the west, Lafayette’s Division including artillery and Light Horse Harry Lee’s Cavalry occupied the heights at this point. When the Army moved out on September 19 the formation stretched to what is now Route 4 in North Hackensack”.
But who was this Lafayette anyway, and why is he and his story so important?
An online summery (courtesy of Wikipedia) tells us that his actual name was Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette ( 6 September 1757 – 20 May 1834), often known as simply Lafayette. He was a French aristocrat and military officer born in Chavaniac, in the province of Auvergne in south central France. Lafayette was a general in theRevolutionary War and a leader of the Garde Nationale during the French Revolution.
In the American Revolution, the summary continues, Lafayette served as a major-general in the Continental Army under George Washington. Wounded during the Battle of Brandywine, he still managed to organize a successful retreat. He served with distinction in the Battle of Rhode Island. In the middle of the war he returned to France to negotiate an increase in French support. On his return, he blocked troops led by Cornwallis at Yorktown while the armies of Washington and those sent by King Louis XVI under the command of general de Rochambeau, admiral de Grasse, and admiral de Latouche Treville prepared for battle against the British.
Locally, the story is said to have gone something this. The encampment at Oradell Heights occurred at an important moment during the Revolutionary War.
The establishment of the camp was said to have been part of Washington’s strategy to confuse the British.
Originally, Washington had planned to attack New York City, at the time held by the British. He was to have had the help of the French, but the attack was then deemed to be impractical, and instead the plan was made to trap Cornwallis in Virginia.
So, the troops in New Jersey were maintained to keep up a pretense of an attack, knowing that it was never to happen. Washington went so far as to allow letters to be intercepted by the British of his intentions to go forward with an attack on New York.
Washington, Lafayette and other leaders left Oradell area on September 17 to head to Hartford where further deliberations occurred.
At that same time, British Sir Clinton in New York was scheming with one Benedict Arnold to deliver to the British West Point.
Oradell and New Jersey enter the picture because an exchange of prisoners, including Arnold, was planned. The plan never happened, but part of the planning was said to involve the Americans kidnapping Arnold, the traitor, from behind British lines and having him brought to the American controlled area in the vicinity of Soldier Hill Road.
Lafayette, Washington and the encampment in Oradell all happened pretty late in the game – after the heroics at New Bridge Landing, and after more distant battles in places such as Valley Forge, Monmouth and Saratoga.
In Oradell: Biography of a Borough (1969), J. Irving Crump writes:
“Only after the French had become our allies and General Rochambeau had landed his army at Newport, while Admiral DeGrasse brought his French fleet north from the West Indies to patrol our coastal waters, did the hills which later were to be called Oradell Heights become the scene of the big army camp known to have been located there. It was this camp that was responsible for the thoroughfare known as Soldier Hill Road”.
Interestingly, according to this history, there appears to be some evidence that long before Delford or Oradell, these parts were referred to by some as Lafayette (“more justifiably”, says the history book, than the little town in Sussex County which now bears the French General’s name).
Today, most of us recognize the name Soldier Hill Road but little more. Similarly, many of us see those two small flags side-by-side along Kinderkamack Road, appreciating that there must be a story attached to them, but being too rushed going to and fro to take the time to think much about it.
This post was first created for inclusion in River Dell Patch - where it appeared in September, 2011.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Source Materials - Biography of A Borough: Oradell (1969), by Irving Crump; Oradell Centennial; 1894-1994…..Thanks to Borough Historian Frank Vierling for his guidance. And, a special thank you to Borough Archivist, George Carter for his ear, his support generally and in particular his help in securing historic pictures from the Borough/Library Collection….. The Archives, located at the Oradell Public Library, are open to the public the first Friday afternoon of the month from 1-5 p.m.