Thursday, October 08, 2009

Second River's War

There is a time-honored saying, one deeply rooted in our culture. For nigh unto 2,500 years we are told that - "The pen is mightier than the sword." First recorded in history before 406 B.C., the Greek poet Euripides said "The tongue is mightier than the blade." Another bard of towering stature, William Shakespeare, phrased it thus, "... many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills." More recently, and probably the best known version came in 1839 from the pen of playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton who wrote, "Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword." The truth of this ancient adage is essential to understanding the role of Second River in the American Revolution.

When evaluating Second River's role in the Revolution, three things should be kept in mind -
1) That the goal of the Revolution was to throw off the European domination of America.
2) That the Reformed Church was the religion of a major part of the population in the wealthy Dutch colonies of New York and New Jersey.
3) That the greater part of the war was fought in New York and New Jersey.

As it was, England was the tax collector and Holland dictated all religious matters in these prosperous mid-Atlantic colonies.

History books tend to favor the sword over the pen. Flashing blades are dramatic. Most high school level history books will tell you that the American Revolutionary War began in and around Boston because the first acts of violence occurred there. If violence is the criteria which defines revolution, then Boston deserves all of the credit. However, if a man with a sharp pen and a loud voice demanding freedom defines revolution, then the American Revolution began here. If one looks to when pen and voice were first raised in revolt against European masters in our country, then it is a documented truism that the American Revolution began here in the Village of Second River, the American Revolution began here in the Dutch Reformed Church on Main Street, the American Revolution began here in the person of the Rev. Gerardus Haughoort.

As a life-long resident of this village, I find the good Reverend Haughoort the kind of folk hero with whom I can readily identify. God-fearing, hard-kicking, tenacious as a bulldog, the good Reverend was a visionary, a revolutionary but perhaps not a diplomat. The correspondences from the American to the European Churches are replete with apologies attempting to play down his colorful words and feisty actions. I like him. He was a pious man but not too saintly. Hot-headed, short-tempered, he was 'pure Belleville' in spirit. Never-the-less, he was an eloquent persuader of men.

Educated in Holland and commissioned to work in the American colonies, he was first sent to Freehold, NJ. Word of his impressive talent spread quickly. At the request of Col. John Schuyler and other prominent families of the village, in 1735, he came to Second River. Glad to be here and filled with political ambitions, within two years, Rev. Haughhoort was deeply involved in the politics of the time. Through him, the Village of Second River was thrust onto center stage in the political arena. He had adjusted quickly to his new life in the colonies. He formed the opinion, the radical notion, the revolutionary idea, that those living in the colonies ought to be able to attend to their own affairs and not have to answer to European authorities for every detail of day-to-day life. A forceful speaker and skillful writer with convincing ways, he soon had a following among prominent leaders from Monmouth County to New York City and up through the Hudson Valley. It was the beginning of a decades-long struggle for freedom and independence. At times it cost him dearly. He had alienated his patron, Col. Schuyler, to the point where, for a time, his own church doors were barred to him and he had to preach to his flock from the steps outside of the church. But he was a determined, never-give-in sort of fellow. He battled on. Victory came in 1771. In an action that served as an early Declaration of Independence, the leadership of the American Church formed an organization that would thenceforth be their governing body. It was done. The first step in freeing America from Europe was taken. The concept was electrifying the colonies. If the European Church masters could be set aside, how difficult could it be to dispense with the English tax collectors ? Not long afterwards, buoyed by the actions of the middle colonies and incensed by increased taxation, there was a certain tea party in a place called Boston.

The good Reverend Gerardus Haughoort saw the completion of this first phase of the revolution, but only the beginning of the armed revolution which followed. He passed to his reward in 1776. The Revolutionary War to free America from outside domination, begun with his pen and tongue, would end with flashing blades.

Reverend Haughoort's remains are interred inside the old Dutch Church, here in Second River, from whence his spirit watches as we enjoy our freedom. We of the current generation are the custodians of a sacred icon. We must be mindful that we safeguard what has been entrusted to us that it can be handed down to the next generation so that all can know what transpired here in Second River; Belleville, New Jersey.

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