Through the Ramapo River Valley ran a highway important to General Washington and his troops. On the road stood two farm houses that had served as headquarters for the General and his staff.
Also on the road was the Ponds Church, with a hexagonal roof, that had been turned into a law court. Here legal records were safeguarded after the British burned the Bergen County courthouse in Hackensack.
What must the Dutch girls and boys have thought when the Sabbath came and their church was filled with soldiers. Before the war the hexagonal church had been filled with the congregation singing hymns and listening to Dominie Benjamin Van der Linde.
This brave and strong man was minister to two churches and traveled miles on horseback from Ponds to Paramus. The Dutch church was a law court too and a prison and storehouse besides.
In the brownstone houses snuggled close to the Ramapo hills, the children had become accustom to the thump-thump of horses hoofs and marching men’s feet.
Five times during the War, the sounds were comforting because General Washington and American soldiers were camping nearby. But sometimes a galloping horseman spread warning up and down the Valley Road – “The enemy is coming – hide your provisions,” he called out, “hide your horses – hide your women and children – get your guns ready.”
The Garrison family quickly obeyed. Big Tom hitched the team of grays and almost before the messenger had disappeared down the road, forced the horses by stinging whip lashes to slip and slide up the mountainside and into the deep woods. There on the well-hidden Cannonball trail the man calmed the excited horses with gentle words until a blast from the conch shell, blown by a young Garrison, signaled that danger was past. Only then did Big Tom drive the precious team down the hill and into the barn.
One day as the sun sank red behind the towering trees of the Ramapo hill-tops, a faint knock on the heavy Dutch door of the Garrison house made everyone stop whatever task was at hand. “Who is that?” whispered young John to his mother. Father Garrision went to the door, gun in hand and called “who’s there?”
“Oh—I am wounded—help me.” The strange voice ended in a low moan. Father Garrison cautiously opened the upper section of the Dutch door and peered out. A slumped figure on the doorstep was almost completely hidden by dark shadows of deepening twilight.
“Quick—come help,” called Father Garrison as he half carried, half dragged the ragged, moaning man into the house. Everybody helped. Blankets were spread on the kitchen hearth.
All at once Mother Garrison became conscious that the stranger wore a Continental uniform. “He’s one of us—he’s one of Washington’s men,” she whispered as she forced some drink down the man’s throat.
His eyes fluttered. “Yes – I’m one of General Washington’s messengers.” He scarcely breathed the words, — “Secret message from West Point – come close – take to Morristown.” The older Garrison son leaned down to catch the message so halteringly recited.
Over and over again the lad repeated the words to himself until he was confident that he had memorized them perfectly. Then he whispered the message to his brother.
Silently the young Garrisons bade farewell to the family and stole out to the barn.
Many, many years have passed. Yet, even today, people, when visiting the ancient Garrison house in Ramapo Valley, speak in hushed whispers of the man who lies in an unmarked grave by the side of the busy road.
This story is from Turkey Feathers, Tales of Old Bergen County by Rosa A. Livingston. © 1963 Title created by Robert Skead. From the book: Miss Katherine Garrison of Ramsey, NJ, related to Rosa Livingson the story of the American post rider that occurred in her ancestral home on the Ramapo Valley Road.
The ancient stone house has been carefully preserved in a setting of fine old trees; however, it is no longer owned by the Garrison family. The original kitchen is in the right wing where the Dutch half door leads into a room with deeply recessed windows, beamed ceiling and the historic fireplace where the unknown soldier died.
Miss Garrison’s pioneer ancestor was Abraham Garretson who came to America from Holland in 1635. At the time of the Revolutionary War story, the Garrison’s owned a slave named “Tom.” Two prized family heirlooms, the conch shell and a large needle used by the Garrisons in thatching roofs were presented to the Bergen County Historical Society Museum.
Note from Robert Skead… There are several similarities between the tale above and our book Patriots, Redcoats & Spies that we believe telling our tale was “meant to be” because we never heard the tale of the Continental messenger and the Garrison family until AFTER we wrote Patriots, Redcoats & Spies.
Our book about two brothers whose father had been shot by Redcoats and now have to get a secret message to General Washington, who they think is in the Morristown area, and have to travel down Ramapo Valley Road to find him… have such similar aspects that we feel Providence wanted our story to be told. When we first read the tale above chills and smiles resulted. If only we knew where the Continental Post Rider was buried…